The owner of a agricultural contracting company was sentenced to nine years in jail for exploitation of immigrant workers, mostly Mexicans, and for leading criminal activity in several states, reported the Attorney for the Middle District of Florida (USA).
Federal magistrate Charlene Edward Honeywell sentenced Bladimir Moreno, 55, to 118 months in prison, as well as 3 years of supervised release and payment of compensation of $175,000 for his victimsfor leading a criminal organization that forced Mexicans who arrived in the United States with a special visa (H-2A) to work in the agricultural sector.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Clarke, Moreno and his accomplices forced Mexicans “to work in inhumane conditions, confiscated their passports, imposed exorbitant fees and debts, and threatened them with deportation or illegal arrest.”
“He abused his power as a business owner to capitalize on the victims’ vulnerabilities and immigration status, luring those seeking a better quality of life with false promises of legal work paying fair wages,” Clarke added in a statement released by the prosecution.
Moreno, owner and director of the contracting firm Los Villatoros Harvesting LLC (LVH), had been arrested in September 2021 and earlier this year pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy in connection with a federal law on corrupt organizations and Extortionists (RICOs).
According to court documents, LVH brought a large number of temporary Mexican workers to the US with H-2A agricultural visas, which the company applied to federal authorities through false declarations, and also engaged in illegal activities that among others included visa fraud and fraud in the hiring of foreign labor.
After making false promises to Mexican farmworkers to work with LVH and charging them inflated fees to enter the United States on H-2A visas, Moreno and his accomplices put the immigrants to work on farms located in the states of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky.
Once in the US, more than a dozen of the farm workers, according to the federal prosecutor’s office, had to work long hours of “physically demanding” work for six or even seven days a week and for minimum wage.
Moreno and his accomplices used various forms of coercion, including imposing debts on workers, confiscating passports, as well as subjecting them to “overcrowded, unsanitary, and degrading living conditions.”
Similarly, they kept them in the US once their visas expired in order to threaten them “with arrest and deportation if they did not comply with the demands.”
In order to conceal the company’s criminal activity, Moreno created and provided “fraudulent records containing false information about workers’ wages and hours of work, and repeatedly made false statements to federal investigators,” the prosecutor’s office said. EFE