Meshael Alayban, 42, arrives for an arraignment in a Santa Ana court on Sept. 20, 2013.
(Photo: Nick Ut, AP)
SANTA ANA, California (AP) - A human-trafficking case against a Saudi princess in the U.S. has been dismissed.
The surprise announcement came Friday as 42-year-old Meshael Alayban was to face arraignment on a charge that could have brought up to 12 years in prison.
Alayban smiled when her attorney, Paul Meyer, said, "You are free."
The charge was filed after a Kenyan maid alleged Alayban had taken away her passport and forced her to work long hours without pay.
Prosecutors now say further investigation did not corroborate the allegations.
Meyer said in a statement that the maid's claims "were a scam to gain permanent resident status in the United States."
Authorities said the maid escaped from Alayban's condo in July, got on a bus and told a passenger her story. The passenger helped her contact police.
Alayban and her attorneys likened the issue to a contract dispute and said the maid and her counterparts were treated well.
But District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said the circumstances were closer to slavery.
Alayban had been free on $5 million in bail posted by the Saudi consulate.
Meyer has said his team gathered hundreds of photos and videos taken by witnesses and the maids themselves that show the extensive freedom they enjoyed. The evidence was shared with prosecutors, he said.
"We also discovered that the women had deleted many of the photos and messages they had posted on social media - and asked friends to delete them also - to destroy the evidence of the true lifestyle they were enjoying," Meyer said.