SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A human-trafficking charge against a Saudi princess was abruptly dismissed Friday after prosecutors were unable to support claims by a Kenyan maid who said she had to escape from her employer's condominium after having her passport taken and being forced to work long hours for meager pay.
The announcement came during what had been expected to be the arraignment of Meshael Alayban, 42, on the felony charge punishable by up to 12 years in prison.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told the judge that investigators tried to corroborate the allegations but found the evidence did not support the claim.
An attorney had said the maid wanted to make a statement to the court but wasn't available until Monday. The judge told Rackauckas he could wait for the statement, but the district attorney moved to dismiss the case.
Alayban smiled when her attorney, Paul Meyer, said, "You are free."
She had been out on $5 million in bail posted by the Saudi Consulate.
Another attorney in the case, Jennifer Keller, thanked the district attorney for "being a man of integrity" on behalf of Alayban's family and the nation of Saudi Arabia.
Meyer said in a statement that the maid's claims "were a scam to gain permanent resident status in the United States."
Prosecutors initially said Alayban took the maid's passport after the royal family traveled to the California city of Irvine, and paid her a fraction of what she was promised.
The maid left Alayban's Irvine condominium in July, got on a bus and told a passenger she escaped, authorities said. The passenger helped her contact police, who searched the condo where Alayban and her family were staying.
After the dismissal, Rackauckas told a press conference that the maid believed she was the victim of human trafficking, but there really weren't restrictions on her movements as she believed.
"I don't think she was lying to us. I think there was a lot of misunderstanding, misapprehension, that sort of thing," he said. "So it was quite dramatic when she waved the bus down and was complaining of being a victim of human trafficking. So we went forward. At the time it did appear that the evidence corroborated what she was saying, but as we looked deeper into it, it just didn't."
Alayban and her attorneys had compared the issue to a contract dispute and said the maid and her counterparts were treated well.
The nannies traveled to the U.S. on $10,000 first-class tickets, according to a statement read by Alayban's attorneys outside a July hearing.
It said the women had cellphones and Internet, and the family even bought cable in their native language. They were often dropped off to shop alone at neighborhood malls, all paid for by the family, the statement said.
In the statement, Meyer 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.
The Saudi royal family is extensive, with thousands of princes and princesses.
Alayban is the wife of Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al Saud, who is a nephew of King Abdullah and grandson of the nation's founding king.