A federal judge has sentenced two farm labor contractors to time in prison and another to eight months of home detention for their roles in a federal racketeering conspiracy that victimized more than a dozen Mexican H-2A workers.
U.S. District Court Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell of Florida's Middle District sentenced Christina Gámez to 37 months and Efrain Cabrera Rodas to 41 months for, among other things, subjecting visa workers to forced labor and harboring workers for financial gain.
Guadalupe Mendes Mendoza was sentenced to eight months of home detention and ordered to pay a $5,500 fine. Gámez and Cabrera were ordered to pay fines of $25,000 and $9,000, respectively.
The three defendants were indicted by a grand jury last month for violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor, and conspiracy to obstruct proceedings before departments, agencies and committees.
Together, they operated and managed a farm labor contracting company called Los Villatoros Harvesting LLC that brought Mexican workers into the United States on H-2A agricultural visas.
"These defendants exploited their victims’ vulnerabilities and immigration status, promising them access to the American dream but then turning around and confiscating their passports and threatening arrest and deportation if they did not endlessly toil away for their profit,” Kristen Clarke, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a release.
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Cabrera, DOJ said, recruited about 40 workers through the company, charging them between $1,000 and $2,000 in fees that he said would be reimbursed after their arrival in the U.S. Many of the workers went into debt to pay these fees, which DOJ said Cabrera used to "coerce" the workers into continuing to work for the company, along with threats of arrest or deportation.
Gámez, who worked as a bookkeeper, manager and supervisor at the company, confiscated the workers' passports, according to DOJ. She also submitted fraudulent payroll documents to Los Villatoros Harvesting's payroll company, which the agency said allowed Los Villatoros Harvesting to pay the workers less than what their contracts called for.
According to DOJ, Gámez also helped falsify payroll records and reimbursement receipts to mislead employees of the Department of Labor.
Mendes Mendoza, a supervisor and manager for Los Villatoros Harvesting, made false statements to federal investigators, DOJ said.
Gámez and Cabrera both pleaded guilty to conspiracy under RICO. Mendes Mendoza pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct a federal investigation.
The owner of LVH, co-defendant Bladimir Moreno, 55, pleaded guilty last month to his role in the scheme, DOJ said. He is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 28, hen he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. "As part of his plea agreement, Moreno has agreed to pay more than $173,000 in restitution to the victims," DOJ said.
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