24 accused of forcing migrants into “modern day slavery” in South Georgia – WSB-TV Channel 2


WAYCROSS, Georgia – For years, migrant workers who paid for assistance entering the United States have been forced to do agricultural work for little or no pay, federal officials say, fearing the threats of eviction and violence from armed guards while living in dirty conditions, cramped trailers with little food or clean water.

Some who were promised as much as $ 12 an hour to work on farms in rural South Georgia were ordered to dig up onions with their bare hands and were paid only 20 cents per bucket full, because armed men kept them under control, according to the court. records. At least two of them died and another was repeatedly raped.

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In a case that federal prosecutors have clearly equated to modern slavery, grand jury indicted 24 people in U.S. district court on dozens of charges including forced labor, mail fraud, witness tampering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Arrests in this case are scheduled for December 21 and January 6 at the Waycross federal courthouse, near the Georgia-Florida border.

Authorities said an investigation launched three years ago ended a criminal enterprise that had made $ 200 million by exploiting the H-2A work visa program to bring in workers from Mexico, Guatemala and from Honduras to the United States.

The workers were forced to pay illegal fees for transportation, food and accommodation, according to the indictment, while their travel and identification documents were withheld, preventing them from leaving and requesting travel. ‘aid.

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“The American dream is a powerful draw for the poor and desperate around the world, and where there is a need there is the greed of those who will attempt to exploit these voluntary workers for their own obscene profits,” said US Attorney David Estes of the Southern District of Georgia.

“Thanks to the exceptional work of our law enforcement partners, Operation Blooming Onion frees more than 100 people from the shackles of modern slavery and will hold those who shackle them accountable.”

A federal Waycross grand jury indicted the two dozen defendants in October. It was only made public after a judge unsealed the document in late November.

Since at least 2015, according to the indictment, the defendants have used H-2A visa applications to bring dozens of migrant workers into the United States as agricultural workers. The federal program requires workers to be paid a fair wage – often $ 10 to $ 12 an hour – and reimbursed for expenses related to travel to and from the United States, food and shelter.

Instead, prosecutors said, the defendants kept most of the money owed to them. They laundered their profits by using the money to buy land, houses and more than a dozen vehicles, as well as a restaurant and a nightclub. Millions of people have been laundered in casinos, according to the indictment.

Estes assigned more than 200 law enforcement officers and federal agents to work on the case, which focused on the rural counties of Atkinson, Bacon, Coffee, Tattnall, Toombs and Ware.

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