https://reveal-player.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/710_Reveal_A_PC_18.mp3

As the population of Americans over 65 rises, families are increasingly choosing to place loved ones in long-term assisted care facilities called residential care homes. With 24-hour care and individualized attention in a home-like setting, these smaller, more intimate alternatives to the traditional nursing home seem like the perfect place for Mom or Grandpa. They’re more affordable, too. But that affordability masks an ugly truth: Workers doing the day-to-day work of caring for America’s older adults are being exploited. 

For over three years, Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan follows the case of Sonia Deza and Normita Lim, two caregivers who worked around the clock caring for seniors for less than $3 an hour.  

This show originally aired in May 2019. At that time, the caregivers were still waiting for justice. Now, nearly two years later, we’re with the women as their case finally makes its way through the legal system.

Dig Deeper

  • Read: Caregivers and Takers: Elder care homes rake in profits as legions of workers earn a pittance for long hours of care
  • Read: California regulators aren’t taking action against care homes that ignore wage theft judgments
  • Watch: ‘I feel worse than animals’ – caregivers tell their stories
  • Data: Search labor violations at care facilities

Credits

Reported by: Jennifer Gollan and Anayansi Diaz-Cortes

Produced by: Anayansi Diaz-Cortes

Lead producer: Anayansi Diaz-Cortes

Edited by: Jen Chien

Production manager: Amy Mostafa

Production assistance: Najib Aminy, Brett Simpson and Ameeta Ganatra

Mixing, sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda 

Engineering help: Claire Mullen, Michael Montgomery and Kaitlin Benz

Data reporter: Melissa Lewis

Additional reporting: Rachel de Leon

Contributing editor: Narda Zacchino

Digital producer: Sarah Mirk 

Episode art: Molly Mendoza

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan

Host: Al Letson

Special thanks: Diana Montaño

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Maria Feldman:Hi, I’m Maria Feldman, director of operations at Reveal. I’m part of a big team of people who are behind the scenes that make this show possible each week. We have staff all across the country, from Tampa to Portland to Oakland, California, and I help set up systems that keep us all connected. Most importantly, I process payroll, so I make sure we all get paid.
Maria Feldman:We’re a nonprofit organization and members like you keep us going. Text the word “reveal” to 474747 to show your support. You can text “stop” at any time. Standard data rates apply. Again, to support this work, just text the word “reveal” to 474747. Thank you.
Audio:Reveal is supported by Progressive. Progressive has you covered when it comes to car insurance, starting with built-in savings, like discounts for being a safe driver. You can also save when you start your quote online or have multiple vehicles on your policy. In fact, drivers who switch and save with Progressive save over $750 on average. Start a quote online and see all the discounts for yourself. Visit progressive.com today.
Audio:National annual auto insurance savings by new customers surveyed in 2019. Potential savings will vary. Discounts will vary and are not available in all states and situations.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Al Letson:Sonya Deza is following a familiar route to her bank. She’s driving through the streets of Antioch, California, a sprawling commuter city about an hour northeast of San Francisco.
Audio:Turn right onto Pruitt Ranch Drive.
Al Letson:Chain restaurants like Chili’s and Panda Express fill peach and beige strip malls. Sonya’s heading to one now.
Sonya Deza:We go there in Bank of America in Brentwood.
Al Letson:The sight of the bank brings back some bad memories.
Sonya Deza:I been sad at that time.
Al Letson:Sonya is now 67 years old. Originally from the Philippines, she has a serious face that instantly softens when she smiles.
Sonya Deza:That’s it.
Audio:Arrived.
Al Letson:Last time she was at this bank, Sonya was with a boss. As she gets out of the car now, she scans the parking lot, worrying that he might be around. So she puts on her sunglasses as kind of a disguise.
Sonya Deza:I can hide and you never know.
Al Letson:She says her boss brought her to this bank to cash a check, a check he had written her for back pay he owed her.
Sonya Deza:Had to go in line. Then I signed the check, the back, my name, Sonya Deza. I cash the check, I get the money: $8,866 in my hands.
Al Letson:$8,866.
Sonya Deza:I walk to the car and I hold the money like this. I keep it like this. I said to myself, “Oh, this is my money. Oh, it’s a lot of money, a big money.”
Al Letson:Sonya says her boss made her cash that check and another one, totaling more than $17,000. Then, she says, he made her hand the money over to him, all but $1,000.
Sonya Deza:I said, “Where’s the money?” He didn’t say nothing. “That’s my money,” I said.
Al Letson:Sonya has no savings, no retirement account, no safety net. For years, she took care of seniors in a residential care home, and the story of why she was forced to cash that check sheds light on an industry rife with exploitation.
Al Letson:Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan investigated this industry for a year, and after our story first aired in 2019, authorities finally took action, helping Sonya and other employees like her. As Jennifer explains, this model is a huge moneymaker for the business owners, who have found an untapped market.
Jen Gollan:We all know that Baby Boomers are getting older. And while some people can continue to live on their own with their families, there’s also a growing part of the population that needs a place to stay.
Jen Gollan:That’s where these residential care facilities come in. There are about 29,000 across the US and many were once single-family homes that these owners have converted into assisted living for seniors. The ones we’re talking about today, they typically have six to 10 residents.
Al Letson:So why is the care home industry growing so fast right now?
Jen Gollan:Well, there’s a bunch of reasons. Wouldn’t you want to be in a nice home versus an institution?
Al Letson:Yeah, of course.
Jen Gollan:I mean, the beauty of them is they’re tucked into these small neighborhoods and they provide a home-like setting for seniors. They get to know the caregivers really well because these caregivers are often on duty around the clock, and these are often cheaper alternatives to nursing homes. But there’s a dark side.
Al Letson:You mean like what happened to Sonya.
Jen Gollan:Exactly. Regulation is really lax, so these places just don’t face much oversight, and that’s led to rampant exploitation.
Al Letson:So how’d you find Sonya?
Jen Gollan:Well, I stumbled on Sonya’s case because I was actually taking a look at her boss, Rommel Publico. Rommel and his wife, they own a chain of four care homes, and each one has caregivers just like Sonya. And they’ve all got stories.
Al Letson:So how did she end up at the bank cashing a check for her boss?
Jen Gollan:Well, that’s what I wanted to find out, so I went to visit her.
Sonya Deza:Hi. Good.
Jen Gollan:Sonya? Hi.
Sonya Deza:You go now there?
Jen Gollan:I’ve been talking to Sonya for months on the phone before I finally meet up with her in person at her sister’s house.
Jen Gollan:How are you?
Sonya Deza:I’m fine.
Jen Gollan:Good.
Jen Gollan:This is the part of the story where you normally hear a dog barking at the reporter as they walk in. But the dogs in this house, they’re frozen. They’re actually porcelain figures.
Sonya Deza:It’s like a million.
Jen Gollan:No dog? She doesn’t own … Oh, I love it.
Sonya Deza:It’s in that [inaudible].
Jen Gollan:I was wanting this one because it was real.
Sonya Deza:I don’t know what this is.
Jen Gollan:Sonya came to the US in 2000 after her husband passed away. She was here to look after her dad, who was already here, and she really needed a job.
Sonya Deza:Send them money to the Philippines, to support them, to support my family.
Jen Gollan:In 2012, she ran into Rommel’s sister.
Sonya Deza:And she said, “Oh, you want to apply to Rommel?” “Yes, yes!” I had no job.
Jen Gollan:So Rommel hired her to be a live-in caregiver at one of his homes. She’d be one of two workers taking care of up to six residents.
Sonya Deza:My salary is only $50 in 24 hours.
Jen Gollan:That breaks down to two bucks an hour. To put that in perspective, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, so by paying his employees less than minimum wage, Rommel was breaking the law. On top of that, Sonya says if she wanted to get that one day off a week …
Sonya Deza:You need to find a reliever, you’d be the one to deduct your salary.
Jen Gollan:Basically, she’d have to find someone to fill in for her, and then she’d have to pay that person out of her own pocket.
Sonya Deza:Because I needed job, because I don’t have a job, I accept it. I not complain because I need to support my family in the Philippines, two daughters and two grandkids. Yeah.
Jen Gollan:I met another woman who worked for Rommel. Her name is Norma Lim.
Normeeta:My girlfriend referred me to Rommel Publico. That’s where I met him.
Jen Gollan:Norma goes by Normeeta. She met Rommel and his wife, Glenda in 2009. Normeeta says Rommel is a real charmer.
Normeeta:Well, he’s a sweet man, believe me. The wife is nice, Glenda. They’re very sweet. He knows how to flirt. He knows how to grease on you. That’s cruel. Yeah, you cannot get angry with him because he knows how to make you feel good. I had no complaint. The only problem is he try to cheat us.
Jen Gollan:Before Normeeta met Rommel, she was a professional poker dealer. But then she had a stroke and was left partially paralyzed. She wasn’t sure what to do. She was in her sixties and she just didn’t have a lot of options. Then she met Rommel and she felt like her luck had changed. He offered her the same deal Sonya had, $50 a day.
Normeeta:I’m kind of disabled and I’m old lady. Patients love my cooking. And I had no problem in the beginning. I was glad that I had a job.
Jen Gollan:So you were earning $2 an hour.
Normeeta:Ooh, I did not even think about that. Yeah. But that was real low.
Jen Gollan:Normeeta loved the residents. They had fun together. They’d eat meals as a group and watch soap operas together in the living room. The house had lots of space, 2,500 square feet, but with up to six residents at a time, the work was relentless. It was like being the housekeeper, cook, nurse, maid all rolled up into one.
Jen Gollan:And if you listen to Sonya …
Sonya Deza:I woke up at 5:00 in the morning.
Jen Gollan:And Normeeta …
Normeeta:And prepare for the breakfast.
Jen Gollan:As they take us through their typical work day …
Normeeta:Feed the six patients.
Jen Gollan:Their experiences sound nearly identical.
Sonya Deza:Around 7:00 they had to clean to the bathroom.
Normeeta:And then after that, I clean up the kitchen.
Sonya Deza:Clean the rooms, one, two, three, four. Five bedrooms there. You have to vacuum the floor.
Normeeta:Give them their medication.
Sonya Deza:You know, cleaning.
Normeeta:And then get ready for lunch, and then feed them. Then after that …
Sonya Deza:Bring the patient to the bathroom.
Normeeta:Clean the kitchen and then prepare for dinner.
Sonya Deza:The same routine.
Normeeta:I’m not really off because I stay in.
Sonya Deza:You cannot sleep all night. They’re going to be calling.
Normeeta:“Help, help!” You need to be patient to the patient.
Sonya Deza:All night long.
Normeeta:Or sometimes your patient is crazy. Sometimes they are biting with you.
Sonya Deza:They make a mess in their bed.
Normeeta:We change the diaper. Yeah, every two hours.
Sonya Deza:Change them, change their bedsheets. Clean them up.
Normeeta:Because we stay here, so we need to help our patient. This is our job.
Jen Gollan:And if one of the residents died, Normeeta says Rommel would cut her pay by $100 that month.
Jen Gollan:Were you ever allowed to leave the facility?
Normeeta:No. We cannot leave. I have to ask permission. He said nobody will take over, so …
Jen Gollan:She didn’t even get Christmas off. Instead, there’d be a big party right there at the care home.
Normeeta:Christmas and Thanksgiving, holidays, we work. I’m telling you, no day off.
Sonya Deza:There’s no day off.
Jen Gollan:You had this great connection with so many of your patients, yet you were exhausted.
Sonya Deza:Well, for me I’m feel nothing. Job is job for me. I just take what they give, the owner give.
Jen Gollan:She was willing to put up with it and never reported Rommel because she didn’t want to lose her job. Other employees stayed quiet because they worried about their legal status in the US.
Jen Gollan:Rommel is from the Philippines like Normeeta and Sonya. He found them and other workers by tapping into a network of Filipino immigrants in the San Francisco Bay area.
Valerie Francis…:This is probably the best place to come if you want to get a job as a caregiver.
Jen Gollan:This is Valerie Francisco Manchavez. She’s writing a book about the caregiving industry. She lives just south of San Francisco in Daly City.
Valerie Francis…:This is little Manila, a Pinoy capital, the center for Filipino American immigration coming in.
Jen Gollan:Valerie was born in the Philippines. She moved here when she was nine, and was actually partially raised in a care home. It’s where her grandparents worked.
Valerie Francis…:My sister, my brother and my mother and I shared one room next to a kitchen. We as children helped them take care of the elderly folks in that care home. We would get up from 6:00 AM and have a schedule of domestic tasks all the way to 10:00 PM.
Jen Gollan:She’s now a sociology professor at San Francisco State University, specializing in labor and the Filipino diaspora. She talks about a specific cultural dynamic in the Filipino employer/employee relationship that can too easily slide into exploitation. The literal translation is: a debt of one’s inner self.
Valerie Francis…:This idea of [Tagalog] is a cultural idea that you feel obligated and indebted to someone who gave you a kindness, who did you a favor by giving you a job.
Jen Gollan:This has to do with an almost feudal class system in the Philippines. Valerie says her grandparents had that relationship with their boss.
Valerie Francis…:Because they thought that this person who was another Filipino that owned the care home was doing them this favor, this great kindness to allow them to have a new life in the United States.
Jen Gollan:Valerie says there’s another Filipino concept at play here. It’s called Kapwa.
Valerie Francis…:Kapwa means “a being togetherness.” It is a way that Filipinos see their social relations with one another as about uplifting the collective good.
Jen Gollan:She says the circle of Kapwa can extend to fellow co-workers, the residents they care for, the families back in the Philippines, and even their employer.
Valerie Francis…:When Rommel offers them to have a holiday at the care home, they continue to work. If you feel like your care home owner or the elderly folks are your family, you won’t to leave because you’re already, quote/unquote, “spending time with your family,” which is an obvious breach of work conditions.
Jen Gollan:I spoke to dozens of caregivers. They all told me how they were overworked and underpaid, but they rarely reported it to authorities. I asked Normeeta if she ever complained.
Normeeta:I did not complain. I’m not a complainer. I never complained. That’s why they love me. Yeah.
Jen Gollan:But someone must’ve complained. I found that out after calling federal regulators and reviewing reams of court documents from cases all over the country. I uncovered case after case of wage theft. That’s when an employer doesn’t pay for all the hours that someone’s worked.
Jen Gollan:Operators were breaking minimum wage, overtime and recordkeeping laws. Nationwide, I found 1,400 cases; about a third of them were in California. And one of them jumped out at me: Rommel and Glenda Publico.
Jen Gollan:In 2013, they were ordered to pay over $133,000 in back wages to 22 employees, including Sonya. That’s how she ended up in that strip mall parking lot with that check.
Sonya Deza:You want me to show it to you, the paper that he made me to sign? I will get my glasses.
Jen Gollan:Sonya still has the paperwork from the Department of Labor.
Sonya Deza:I will show it to you.
Jen Gollan:It said Rommel owed her more than $17,000 in back wages. The money was a surprise. She hadn’t realized Rommel was breaking US labor laws, and now he was asking her to sign the paper to prove to the government that he’d paid her the money.
Sonya Deza:I said, “What is this? I don’t know what is this. Why should I sign this? Before I sign this I need a check. Where is the check?”
Jen Gollan:Eventually, he gave her the check and she agreed to sign that document for Rommel. But that moment of victory, it was fleeting because remember the bank? Rommel made Sonya hand all the money back to him.
Jen Gollan:What was going through your head at that moment?
Sonya Deza:“Why is Rommel doing that to me?” What do you think of me? I’m sad because that’s my money. Why?” We work 24 hours in that care home. He’s a liar. He’s greedy. I think he’s greedy.
Jen Gollan:Sonya tells me that later she was mad at herself for giving the money back. But she felt like she didn’t even have a choice.
Sonya Deza:What can I do? I’m afraid because I think he will fired me. If he will fired me, where can I go?
Jen Gollan:Rommel says he didn’t do anything wrong, that he treated his workers fairly. But three other employees say that Rommel also made them return back wages. As for Normeeta, she never even got a check. She and Sonya keep working for him, hoping things will get better.
Jen Gollan:And they do, a little. He gives them a raise, a small one, and Sonya gets Sundays off without having to pay her replacement. But not much else changes for now.
Al Letson:Federal regulators already came down on Rommel. But what he doesn’t realize is that other investigators will soon be taking a closer look.
Jeff Swatman:So on the day that we do the search warrant, we knock on the door.
Al Letson:At this point, you might be wondering how does anyone even get into this business. It turns out there’s a whole industry out there to help people get started.
Audio:I do not know of another business model like that. That is why we call America’s untapped business opportunity.
Al Letson:That’s next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today we’re revisiting an investigation that we originally aired in 2019.
Al Letson:It’s the story of two women, Sonya Deza and Normeeta Lim. For years, they took care of seniors in a residential care home. They liked being caretakers, but it was around-the-clock work for less than $3 an hour.
Al Letson:For a while Normeeta and Sonya didn’t quit or complain. They worried they’d be easily replaced. This is a booming industry with the potential to make a lot of money for the people who own the care homes. One quick Google search can get them started.
Audio:And today communication is going to be about how do you make money owning a residential assisted living facility. Show me the money.
Al Letson:YouTube is full of videos like this one from something called Assisted Living University. They have lots of advice on how to get started. For small residential care homes, the bar’s pretty low.
Audio:I have no formal training in caregiving. I’ve never been a caregiver before. And nor do I have any formal medical training or background.
Al Letson:No formal medical training. So what do you need? First, a piece of real estate to convert into a care home, then a state license. In California, that means initially taking an 80-hour training course that focuses mainly on administrative stuff. If you want to work in a care home like Sonya and Normeeta, you only need 40 hours of training.
Al Letson:This is in a state that requires a manicurist to get 10 times that amount. And once your business is up and running, you can pull in more than a quarter of a million dollars a year with just six clients.
Audio:I do not know of another business model like that. That is why we call it America’s untapped business opportunity. This is called “in-come,” because it’s really coming in. This is called in-come.
Al Letson:People who want to make that in-come, have a lot of support. Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan meets up with a man who could help their money-making dreams come true.
Jen Gollan:When I meet Ron Simpson, he tells me he’s making plans to go paragliding.
Ron Simpson:There’s an airport where we live in Paris.
Jen Gollan:That’s Paris, California, near where Ron lives. And Ron looks like he’s living the Southern California dream. He’s in his 70s with glistening silver hair, a perfect tan peeking out from the top of his unbuttoned shirt. I offer him coffee, but he asks for tea.
Ron Simpson:I get the Yogi tea at Pilates. It is a lot weaker than this dandelion tea that you’ve given me.
Jen Gollan:Ron got into the care home business when his wife’s grandmother, who he called Granny, needed more help. They had put her in a nursing home but she hated it. One day Ron had an idea.
Ron Simpson:So I’m lying in bed watching a Buffalo Bills play-off football game. Went through the Sunday Times, found four houses for rent. Looked at them all that day and rented a house that day.
Jen Gollan:They moved Granny in and says that within weeks, her health improved so much he thought to himself, “I should do this for a living.” He didn’t have any kind of training in caregiving, but he quit his job in product development, bought a house and got to work.
Ron Simpson:Started late ’94, early ’95 taking care of other residents as well as Granny. I’ve been doing it ever since. Oh, it’s the most rewarding, fulfilling thing I’ve done in my life.
Jen Gollan:So fulfilling that Ron helped start a group called 6Beds. It represents more than 1,000 other small care home operators like him, who run places with six beds or less.
Jen Gollan:The group lobbies for laws that are good for business, and it holds public workshops to educate people already in the field or who are thinking about getting started. I visited one recently at an auditorium in Los Angeles.
Ron Simpson:We want to get started, so if people could find their seats.
Jen Gollan:Ron’s giving the intro speech in front of about 100 people. It’s a mix of men and women, mostly white and Filipino dressed business casual. Coffee in styrofoam cups and browning bananas set out as snacks. An American flag hangs at the front of the room.
Ron Simpson:We’re going to start with the Pledge of Allegiance. I pledge allegiance …
Jen Gollan:In the afternoon session, labor regulators explain the labor laws that apply to the industry. Then the State Department’s Social Services which licenses care home operators. They were there too.
Jen Gollan:Then all that came after spending the morning listening to people who had a different kind of message. They were saying, “Yes, you have to follow the laws,” but they also had lots of advice on how to do the bare minimum from maximum profits. And the biggest place to cut costs? Employees.
George Kutneria…:Thanks for offering the intro. I appreciate it.
Jen Gollan:George Kutnarian takes the mic. He oversees public policy and legislation for 6Beds, and he’s all about saving money. For example, the law requires private quarters for the caregivers, but George says …
George Kutneria…:They don’t say “a bedroom,” as under local zoning laws. They always use the term “quarters.” In my opinion, the garage, if it meets all the furnishing requirements, should count as quarters. Again, is there gray area? Sure. But they never use the term “bedroom has to be homelike.”
Jen Gollan:I spoke with caregivers who did sleep in the garage, on the living room sofa, even on the floor. I also found a case where an operator charged caregivers $25 a day for their lodging.
Jen Gollan:As George wraps up his talk, he encourages care home owners to, quote, “respectfully push back on the Department of Social Services or DSS if they ask you to do something that could cut into profit.”
George Kutneria…:So there’s this assumption that DSS says that you have to have two workers all the time. That’s also not true. Okay? So these are all myths. These are all myths that we need to dispel because a lot of times what DSS maybe has been asking you isn’t going to work from a wage and hour standpoint. So if you get a claim or a lawsuit …
Jen Gollan:Some of what I heard in that workshop seemed to put profits over employees, and I wondered if that kind of message could lead some employers to think, “Well, it’s okay to take advantage of workers.”
Jen Gollan:For example, George clearly told the crowd that they really need two caregivers to run a six bed facility. Here’s what Ron Simpson said about that when I asked him:
Ron Simpson:I don’t know anybody in these days that uses one caregiver.
Jen Gollan:But when he got started in this business 25 years ago …
Ron Simpson:It wasn’t unusual for a six bed facility to get by with one caregiver because most of the people in those homes then were fairly independent. Now, there’s hardly any home that doesn’t have at least two caregivers.
Jen Gollan:But that’s not what I found. I uncovered cases from the past few years, where just one caregiver was on duty caring for six residents around the clock, unable to leave the home even for doctor’s appointments. But Ron tries to convince me that that just isn’t happening anymore.
Jen Gollan:So it sounds like you’re saying that operators who didn’t play by the rules and didn’t pay their workers properly is a thing of past? Is that right?
Ron Simpson:Yeah, it doesn’t sound nice to phrase it like they’re not playing by the rules. I think that most everybody that does this work does it because they care about the elderly and to try to make their life as joyful as it can be when they get to the point where they’re not independent. And they don’t necessarily think about or know exactly what’s involved with labor requirements.
Jen Gollan:And Ron says it’s not just the owners who are in it for altruistic reasons. The employees are too, and he says what’s upsetting workers is the increased scrutiny and bad press around wage theft and abuse.
Ron Simpson:Until the audit started and the publicity started that would give this industry a bad name, the caregivers were really happy with their situation.
Jen Gollan:They were really happy?
Ron Simpson:Because they had a place where they could live. They loved what they doing; they were fulfilled by enriching somebody else’s life. Were there exceptions? Yeah, there were exceptions. There were owners that took advantage of caregivers, and that’s how the audit started. But most caregivers are extremely happy.
Jen Gollan:Especially, Ron says, the Filipino caregivers.
Ron Simpson:It’s in their culture. They are kind and compassionate and loving people.
Jen Gollan:In fact, he only hires Filipino caregivers at his chain of care homes.
Ron Simpson:I’ve interviewed a lot of other people, and nobody really picks it up and nobody is fulfilled by caring for the elderly the way I’ve seen the Filipinos do it. I couldn’t find somebody that grew up like I did in the US who would work and do the work and do it as well and do it for minimum wage.
Jen Gollan:Ron sees caregiving as just a natural career path for Filipino immigrants. I wondered what Valeria Francisco Manchavez would think of that. She’s a sociologist who grew up in a care home with her grandparents.
Valerie Francis…:I don’t think there’s anything inherent about Filipinos taking caregiving to the elderly jobs. These are the jobs that are available to Filipinos who are coming to the United States.
Jen Gollan:Wages sent from overseas workers make up 10% of the Philippines GDP. Valerie says it’s not an accident that so many caregivers are Filipino immigrants.
Jen Gollan:There’s a decades-old labor pipeline that runs from the islands to the US, its former colonizer. In the ’20s and ’30s, it was farmworkers. In the ’80s and ’90s, nurses and now caregivers.
Valerie Francis…:There has always been a link between workers coming from the Philippines and working in the most dispensable, disposable domestic and cheap labor in the United States.
Jen Gollan:Contrary to what Ron Simpson says, Valerie says these workers are not content to do difficult work for minimum wage because they are from a kind and loving people.
Valerie Francis…:It doesn’t just come from their Filipino-ness. It comes from their disempowered positions as migrant workers, newcomers to the United States, immigrants in their lack of ability to have other people advocate for them.
Jen Gollan:This kind of exploitation is an issue in states with large Filipino immigrant communities like New Jersey and California. But plenty of other caregivers are in this same disempowered position.
Jen Gollan:They’re all part of an industry that’s increasingly hiring immigrants and people of color. And those groups are among the lowest paid and most at risk of labor exploitation, the kind of exploitation I found in the care home industry.
Jen Gollan:I took this information to Ron Simpson, and I told him that I’d uncovered 1,400 cases of wage theft and other labor violations over the last decade.
Ron Simpson:How big a deal is 1,400? I mean, it sounds pretty dramatic, but it’s not something I’ve heard before. I don’t know what’s the significance of that to you.
Jen Gollan:Well, you’re in the business, so that’s why we’re asking you.
Ron Simpson:I know, but we’re talking about what 6Beds is doing to try and educate people to be compliant, to understand what’s required.
Jen Gollan:I give him a chance to take in this information and explain exactly what the numbers mean. He responds by questioning why I’m even reporting this story.
Ron Simpson:Well, I don’t know how you made your decision to investigate this, but somebody’s supporting it. You’ve been on this for a long time. We’ve been talking a long time. This is the second workshop you’ve come to, and we’ve talked long before that. So someone’s making a big investment in this.
Jen Gollan:We are not guns for hire. We’re independent reporters. And the reason we’re doing this story is it’s in the public interest. We’re interested in how the industry is policing itself, how it cares for caregivers, how caregivers are being treated, and why some of them are earning $2 to $3 an hour.
Ron Simpson:Do you really believe that some of them are earning only $2 to $3 an hour?
Jen Gollan:Well, there are documents and evidence to support their stories, and we’ve spoken with dozens of workers who have told us that they’re earning $2 to $3 an hour. What do you make of that?
Ron Simpson:Well, I’m suspicious that that’s probably not accurate, that the caregivers don’t understand when they’re working and when they’re not.
Jen Gollan:I know my numbers are accurate. The evidence comes from federal and state investigations. And while Ron seems to be saying caregivers don’t know what they’re talking about, workers like Normeeta Lim actually do understand when they’re working and when they’re not.
Normeeta:I cook and then feed them and then I clean. Work all day, work all day. I work all day straight all the way.
Jen Gollan:While they may not always feel brave enough to speak out, employees like Sonya Deza do know when their employers have cheated them. Like when Rommel forced her to return her back pay.
Sonya Deza:That’s my back pay because I work 24 hours in that facility. That was my money.
Jen Gollan:There’s one thing I haven’t told you about when Sonya returned that money to Rommel. Back in the Philippines, Sonya majored in business in college. So she made a calculated move: Before she handed over the cash, she made Rommel sign a document handwritten by her as a kind of receipt.
Sonya Deza:This is to certify that I received from Sonya Deza on July 23, 2013 the amount of $8,866 in cash.
Jen Gollan:Sonya hopes that one day that document will help her get her money back.
Al Letson:Sonya keeps on working for Rommel, but soon, an unexpected ally shows up at the care home’s front door.
Sonya Deza:Then when I opened the door, there are the police. Yeah! We were shocked. “Don’t move! Don’t move! Don’t move! We have a search warrant!”
Al Letson:That’s coming up next on Reveal.
Al Letson:Do you want to know more about how we do what we do? Well, our weekly newsletter takes you behind the scenes. Our investigations change laws, minds and, sure, we like to say it, the world. Be among the first to read them. Just text “newsletter” to 474747. You can text “stop” at any time. Standard data rates apply. Again, text “newsletter” to 474747.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Al Letson:It’s a sunny September morning in the Northern California suburb of Antioch, and Sonya Deza is up and about. Her routine today is like every day, awake at 5:00 AM, make breakfast for the group of seniors she takes care of, get them fed and washed up. But on this day, something interrupts her routine.
Sonya Deza:I said, “Ooh, who’s knocking at the door? It’s too early. Who’s that? Then it’s our doorbell.”
Al Letson:Sonya goes to answer.
Sonya Deza:Then when I opened the door, there are the police. Yeah! We were shocked. “Don’t move! Don’t move! Don’t move! We have a search warrant!”
Al Letson:The care home where Sonya works is being raided, and the man on the other side of the door wants to hear her story. Here’s Reveal’s Jennifer Gollan.
Jen Gollan:That man was an investigator named Jeff Swatman.
Jeff Swatman:… and I do fraud investigations. I’m an inspector with the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office.
Jen Gollan:Contra Costa County is where Sonya lives. Jeff was investigating her boss, Rommel Publico. He was still paying workers what amounted to $2 an hour, even after federal regulators had busted him for ripping them off.
Jen Gollan:Jeff’s job is to go after employers suspected of wage theft. He’s investigated a lot of care homes, and the stories are always pretty much the same.
Jeff Swatman:The tenant or the patients, from every case I’ve ever had are always well taken care of. It’s really the employees that are getting the short end of the stick here.
Jen Gollan:Jeff investigated Rommel. When I first interviewed him for this story, he couldn’t talk about this case because it was still pending. But he did agree to talk to me about how these types of investigations usually go without naming names. Usually, the first thing Jeff does is pose as a potential customer.
Jeff Swatman:I just tell them I’m so-and-so, my father’s getting to the point where I’m about ready to put him into a care home. Well, they always let you in because they want your business, and they show you around.
Jen Gollan:Then he does some more research, gets a search warrant and with that in hand, he goes back to the care home this time as himself.
Jeff Swatman:So on the day that we do the search warrant, we knock on the door.
Jen Gollan:Like that morning he and a team of investigators showed up at the care home where Sonya was working.
Jeff Swatman:The first thing we do is we contact the employees, settle them down, tell them why we’re there. Tell them they’re not in trouble for anything.
Sonya Deza:They would show me their search warrant, then “We’re not hurting you. Stay there.” The patient, they were scared because there’s the police with a big gun.
Jen Gollan:Besides the soap operas after lunchtime, this is the most high-stakes drama the care home has ever seen. One of Sonya’s residents wants to know what’s going on.
Sonya Deza:She said, “Sonya, Sonya, come here. Why do we have a lot of people there?” I told him, “You know why? Somebody, not me, not us, report to the Department of Labor.” I said, “That’s not our problem. That’s someone else problem.”
Jen Gollan:Sonya sits down to be interviewed. She is nervous.
Sonya Deza:“We are live-in,” I said, “We stay here 24 hours.”
Jeff Swatman:We document how much they’re getting paid, when they get paid, how they get paid. Whether they’re being paid below minimum wage, whether they’re being paid overtime.
Sonya Deza:“I have a check,” I said. “You want me to show it to you?” “Yes, give it to me.”
Sonya Deza:So I show it to him: “Yeah, it’s my salary, $639 in two weeks.” “Do you know how much an hour?” I said, “Almost $2,” I tell to the investigator.
Jen Gollan:One thing on Sonya’s mind: that $17,000 she says Rommel took from her. Sonya still has the receipt she had him sign to prove what he did, but she doesn’t mention it to investigators. She’s scared, and she doesn’t want to lose her job.
Jen Gollan:She also worries that her co-worker might rat her out to Rommel. And if other care home operators find out she talked, she might get blacklisted.
Sonya Deza:That’s why I had to be quiet. I’m afraid nobody will hire me.
Jen Gollan:At some point investigators go upstairs.
Jeff Swatman:And always in these care facilities, you’ll find documents related to the operation of the business. Oftentimes, we also find large amounts of cash.
Sonya Deza:They bang the door there and block the door there and get all the filings, the filings of the clients and all of us.
Jen Gollan:The investigator sees all the files and leave. The next time Rommel comes to the house, he grills Sonya.
Sonya Deza:Yes, he’s angry with me. Told me that, “Oh, I heard you said that you work here 24 hours.” I said, “Yes, and that is true. I stay here 24 hours.”
Sonya Deza:“You will ruin my reputation.” “Do you want me to be a liar? To lie to that investigator? Oh, no way. Oh, my goodness. Why did you say that? I’m telling the truth.”
Sonya Deza:That’s why she’s angry. She wants me to lie to the investigator. “No.”
Jen Gollan:But Rommel doesn’t fire her, and life at the care home continues.
Sonya Deza:I’m still working, continue working.
Jen Gollan:Investigators interviewed other workers who told them what Sonya was too afraid to say. That Rommel drove them to the bank, forced them to cash checks for back wages and then took the money for himself. Jeff Swatman says what Rommel did was one of the most egregious cases he’s seen but not uncommon.
Jeff Swatman:These cases take a long time to develop and to actually bring them to conclusion, and I don’t have time to go out and check all these facilities.
Jen Gollan:I talked to dozens of investigators, regulators and attorneys. They see this type of behavior is endemic in the care home industry, not just in California but across the country. And there’s probably far more than those 1,400 cases that I found.
Jen Gollan:But there’s another thing: When owners get caught, they rarely face the consequences.
Jeff Swatman:I could do this for the rest of my life and not even scratch the surface of the wage theft and workers compensation insurance fraud that occurs here.
Jen Gollan:About a year after the raid at his care home, Sonya’s still working there. She starts noticing that something’s off: Rommel and his wife, they’re showing up every day.
Sonya Deza:She’s painting, she’s fixing all the things there. “I ready to fix the care home.”
Jen Gollan:When Sonya asks what’s going on, they just shrug her off.
Sonya Deza:“Oh, maybe we will admit the patient.” I said, “Oh, really?”
Jen Gollan:Then one day another man shows up at the door.
Sonya Deza:“Oh, did Rommel told you that he will sell this care home?” I said, “No, he didn’t say anything about this facility.”
Jen Gollan:Sonya never finds out who he is, but within weeks Rommel shuts down the care home.
Sonya Deza:Because he sell the care home, people out, all the patient. After that, no more. Just only said that this already closed and you had to move. So we can move. That’s it.
Jen Gollan:Just like that, Sonya lost her livelihood and her home.
Sonya Deza:Of course I’m sad because I have no job again.
Jen Gollan:Test one, two. Right now we’re waiting in this hushed hallway outside this courtroom. Glenda and Rommel Publico are waiting down the hall, and Sonya Deza is waiting on a bench just outside the courtroom.
Jen Gollan:It’s September of 2019, four months after our story first aired. Normeeta and Sonya are here to testify at a hearing for Rommel Publico and his wife, Glenda. It’s the caregivers’ first glimmer of hope that they’ll get justice.
Jen Gollan:How do you feel about being here?
Sonya Deza:A little bit nervous. I just can feel it a little bit only.
Jen Gollan:The Publicos come into the courtroom, but they walk right by us like we’re not even there.
Jen Gollan:Did they look at you guys?
Sonya Deza:No. They doesn’t talk at us. I don’t need to talk. No talking.
Normeeta:That’s it.
Sonya Deza:Nothing.
Normeeta:Nothing.
Jen Gollan:The Publicos were charged with three felony counts, including tax fraud and grand theft of labor.
Jen Gollan:Should we go in there?
Jen Gollan:We couldn’t go in the hearing, but right afterwards, I taped myself describing what happened.
Jen Gollan:So I walk into the courtroom and Glenda and Rommel Publico were stone-faced the whole hearing. Rommel Publico was sort of hunched over in his typical style in the blue sweatshirt that I think he wore to the last hearing. Glenda was wearing her burgundy leather jacket and light pants, looking rather prim.
Speaker 11:… so is that possible? I mean, I don’t know. [inaudible].
Jen Gollan:So they’re going to not have them testify today and then have them come back to try to settle the case.
Speaker 11:… still could have …
Jen Gollan:Once we step out of the courtroom, I get the Publicos’ lawyers to talk to me on the record.
Jen Gollan:Is the idea to give the workers some sort of restitution?
Speaker 12:No, like I said, I don’t personally have any further comments. I don’t know about Mr. Jordan.
Speaker 13:No. No further comments. This is ongoing. But Mr. Cohen will be happy to meet.
Speaker 12:Okay.
Jen Gollan:Sounds good.
Speaker 12:Thank you.
Female:Thanks.
Female:Thank you.
Female:Thanks.
Female:Nice meeting you.
Jen Gollan:That’s all I get out of them. Normeeta and Sonya are disappointed they didn’t get to testify, and we all leave without any idea when the next step in the process will come.
Jen Gollan:Even though Rommel wouldn’t do an interview with me in the courtroom, he has talked to me. Over the years, I’ve spoken to him on the phone for hours. One time he told me that he treated his caregivers like his own mother.
Jen Gollan:How does that square with the caregivers who are saying they were paid $2 an hour to work around the clock?
Rommel Publico:I cannot tell you how, this case and everything. But you know what? I did not cheat them. They know that.
Jen Gollan:He didn’t cheat them, he tells me over and over again.
Normeeta:What kind of deal is that? That he treat his mother like that? No.
Jen Gollan:It’s something Normeeta just doesn’t buy.
Normeeta:He screwed up. I don’t know how he did it. He screwed up, so that’s what happened to him.
Jen Gollan:In early 2020, I get word that Rommel pled guilty to three felonies. Charges against his wife were dismissed. I stay on this story as a pandemic unfolds.
Jen Gollan:And then in August, a judge sentences him to three months of home detention and five years of probation. This moment has been six years in the making since that SWAT team first showed up at the house where Sonya worked. Rommel also has to pay more than $600,000 in restitution, much of it to employees like Sonya. I get Sonya and Normeeta on the phone.
Sonya Deza:It’s $17,732.
Jen Gollan:Sonya tells me she got a check in the mail for $17,000, the amount that Rommel took from her all those years ago.
Sonya Deza:I’m so happy, of course. Since I left to that care home, I had no permanent job.
Normeeta:Congratulations, Sonya! Congratulations.
Sonya Deza:Congratulations. Thank you so much, to both of you.
Jen Gollan:Do you feel like justice has been done.
Sonya Deza:I don’t know.
Normeeta:Justice been served. Good, right?
Jen Gollan:Sonya, you sound less sure.
Sonya Deza:I don’t know if this is done or what.
Rommel Publico:Hello. Hello.
Jen Gollan:Rommel?
Jen Gollan:Later that day, I give Rommel a call.
Rommel Publico:Who’s this?
Jen Gollan:Hi. It’s Jen Gollan from Reveal. What I wanted to find out is how you felt about the $600,000 in restitution that you’re having to pay.
Rommel Publico:I don’t know [inaudible]. Yeah, so how can …
Jen Gollan:Rommel?
Rommel Publico:Oh, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Have a nice … Okay, thank you. God bless you. Okay. Thank you so much.
Jen Gollan:That’s all he would say to me. Rommel’s attorney declined an interview, saying only that “the outcome is just and we plan to comply with the plea agreement.” Since we spoke, I found out that Sonya will get more money from Rommel for a total of $71,000.
Jen Gollan:That brings her closer to justice. But for the thousands of other caregivers who are still working around the clock for less than minimum wage, justice is still out of reach.
Jen Gollan:I’ve reported on this story off and on for three years, consumed with spreadsheets, court documents, investigative files, and there’s one I keep coming back to. At the heart of the story is how we as a country take care of people as they get older and how we treat the people who take care of them.
Jen Gollan:Even though the Publicos’ business closed a few years ago, Normeeta is still good friends with Richard Eichendorf, one of her favorite residents. She looked after him for nearly a decade.
Richard Eichend…:Hello.
Normeeta:Hi, Richard.
Richard Eichend…:Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello.
Normeeta:Hello.
Jen Gollan:He’s one of the first people Normeeta calls to tell the news.
Normeeta:Well, the first check, we get the first check from the [Cidarel] that Rommel took the money back.
Jen Gollan:She tells him about the checks she’s received as part of Rommel’s restitution.
Richard Eichend…:Norma?
Normeeta:Yeah?
Richard Eichend…:You were a great help there at the home there at the time because you did a lot of things on your own. All I know is this is money that’s due to Norma. No question about it. Norma, she’s entitled to these compensations.
Normeeta:Yeah.
Richard Eichend…:I’m surprised it’s taken this long, huh?
Normeeta:I know. It’s really long.
Jen Gollan:Before Richard landed at the Publicos’ care home, he was living in a huge, expensive nursing home, almost $8,000 a month. He has no family, and Normeeta became that for him. Even during the pandemic, they call each other once or twice a week.
Normeeta:We have a lot of memories, you know?
Richard Eichend…:We just kind of clicked, like together. I don’t know. Yeah.
Normeeta:Yeah.
Richard Eichend…:Soap opera, Days of Our Lives, we used to see it together there the afternoon. Oh.
Normeeta:Yeah. And then we talk about superstar, the old-timer actresses and actors.
Richard Eichend…:Norma, you remember an actor by the name of Christopher Plummer?
Normeeta:Oh, yeah. Of course, I do. Yeah.
Richard Eichend…:He passed away, you know?
Normeeta:Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah.
Richard Eichend…:You remember in The Sound of Music?
Normeeta:Julie Andrews, right?
Richard Eichend…:Right. Yeah. (singing)
Normeeta:Yeah.
Al Letson:Normeeta and Richard plan to meet up after the pandemic. In the meantime, they have the phone and their memories. Normeeta isn’t working residential care homes anymore, but workers are still being exploited. We’ve uncovered more than 1,400 cases of wage theft.
Al Letson:If you’re wondering if this is happening in your community, you can search our database by visiting revealnews.org/caregivers. Again, that’s revealnews.org/caregivers. While you’re there, take a deeper dive into our complete coverage, including photographs of the people you heard from in the story.
Al Letson:Today’s show was reported by Jennifer Gollan. Our lead producer was Anayansi Diaz-Cortes. Jen Chien edited the show, but sadly, she has moved on from Reveal. Jen is my buddy; her nickname is Money, so if you see her, just say, “Hey, Money.” She’ll respond. Jen, we love you. Best of luck.
Al Letson:We had additional reporting from Melissa Lewis and Rachel de Leon. Narda Zacchino, Michael Corey, and Andy Donohue were contributing editors. Special thanks to Diana Montaño. Our production manager is Amy Mostafa.
Al Letson:Original score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man, yo, Aruda. They had help this week from Brett Simpson and Amita Ganatra. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Comorado, Lightning.
Al Letson:Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Inasmuch Foundation.
Al Letson:Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember there is always more to the story.
Audio:From PRX.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes is a reporter and producer for Reveal. Her work has been featured everywhere from All Things Considered to  Radio Ambulante and  This American Life. She is a recipient of the Overseas Press Club Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation award. She was the creator and lead producer for KCRW’s Sonic Trace, a storytelling project that was part of AIR’s Localore initiative. Previously, she produced for Radio Diaries and has done extensive reporting in both the U.S. and Mexico. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jennifer Gollan

Jennifer Gollan is a reporter for Reveal, covering labor and corporate accountability.

An Emmy Award winner, Gollan has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to lax manufacturing practices that contributed to deadly tire blowouts.

Gollan uncovered rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry. The series, Caregivers and Takers, detailed how operators enriched themselves while paying workers about $2 an hour to work around the clock. The stories prompted a congressional hearing, plans for prosecutions and new state legislation. 

Gollan exposed how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured. In response to her reporting, Congress passed a new federal law, the Government Accountability Office produced a report and the Pentagon began scrutinizing the safety records of more defense contractors.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian U.S., Politico Magazine and PBS NewsHour.

Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing Awards. She has been a finalist for an ONA Online Journalism Award, an IRE Award and two Gerald Loeb Awards. Gollan is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Brett Myers is a senior radio editor for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Brett Simpson (she/her) is an assistant producer for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she focuses on audio, print and investigative reporting. She has received fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents’ Association and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. She is also the graduate researcher at UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program. Most recently, Simpson reported breaking news for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered the coronavirus outbreak in the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. She received a bachelor's degree in English at Princeton University, where she twice won the Ferris Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Projects in Journalism. Simpson is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa is the production manager for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree in journalism with a focus on audio and data at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a Dean’s Merit Fellow and an Islamic Scholarship Fund scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on KALW and KALX.  Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office. 

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.