An employment agency run by a US-registered sex offender and former fugitive who says he can arrange for foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong to work as hotel maids in Las Vegas has come under investigation by the Hong Kong government.
The Labour Department says it has received a complaint against the agency, which is run by Steve Austin Conway - also known as Earl Lynn Bagley - and an investigation is under way.
The 61-year-old American, who says Conway is his business name, states on a website that he is the founder and president of Foreign Domestic Workers Association of America Limited.
"I would like to offer a very good financial future to all domestic helpers in Hong Kong to work in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA as hotel maids at most five-star hotels and with great benefits!" the site states.
Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asia Migrants' Coordinating Body, warned Hong Kong's some 320,000 maids not to be taken in by the deal.
Conway, under his Bagley identity, was required to register his whereabouts in the United States because of convictions for child pornography and sex offences with minors. He was sought by authorities when he failed to do so.
But Conway says he has fulfilled all requirements after being deported from the Philippines to the US last year.
The Hong Wrong blog tracked Conway down with the help of a Filipino Hong Kong resident posing as a maid interested in the Las Vegas deal.
The association's website says anyone interested in the deal has to pay a non-refundable membership fee of US$20 every month for up to three years.
Membership, as well as the employment process, may be cancelled if the maids fail to pay the monthly fee throughout the three-year period.
The association promises limousine services for the maids for the week they arrive in the US.
It says it will also advance US$2,000 for expenses such as hotel accommodation, medical examinations and flights to the Philippines or Indonesia for visa interviews at the US embassy.
The undercover Filipino arranged to meet Conway in a Sheung Wan KFC restaurant earlier this month, but he did not show up. She called again and was then asked to meet him in Tsim Sha Tsui instead.
She eventually met him at his office - a tiny guest unit inside the shabby Mirador Mansion that also serves as his home. He told her he could offer even more.
"If you get 1,000 [maids] to sign up, you don't have to wait four years. You go in three months," Conway said in a recording of their conversations. "But you're not going to go as a hotel maid. You go as a corporate executive for corporations."
When the Filipino asked why it was not three years, as the website said, Conway replied: "What's the problem of that?"
He said a hotel maid was paid only US$12 an hour, while a corporate executive received a minimum of US$2,000 a month, on top of subsidies for travel expenses and a commission cheque of US$1,000 a month.
He then said he was organising a raffle. "We were hoping to have the raffle tickets ready today so you can take 1,000 raffle tickets and sell them for HK$5 each … that will bring HK$5,000. I will give you HK$2,000," he said.
He said if the Filipino found 20 friends to sign up and they paid every month, she would not have to pay her membership fee.
The South China Morning Post and Hong Wrong confronted Conway after he interviewed the Filipino and spoke to him again by telephone later. He denied his operation was a scam, saying he was running a "not-for-profit" business to help the maids because he had met many who were either overcharged by recruitment agencies or "sold to Russia as prostitutes".
Asked how he financed the business, he said: "I have got a friend in Beverly Hills [who] is worth US$60 million."
He said he started the business a few months ago and had recruited about 30 members. He said he is a director of the association, but Companies Registry records show he is not.
A spokesman for the Labour Department said: "We will take appropriate action upon completion of the investigation."
Asked if the monthly membership fee was unlawful, the department said agencies were allowed to charge maids only 10 per cent of their first month's salary for successful job placement.
Eman said it was a lucrative business as Conway could get HK$160,000 a month if he got 1,000 maids to sign up.