Business owner sentenced in ‘forced labor’ case involving migrant farmworkers

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CIW farmworkers vs Publix
Farmworkers and allies march asking Publix to sign on to Fair Food Program. By Christopher Davis / WMNF News (March 2013).

A Florida federal judge has sentenced the owner of a farm-labor company to nearly 10 years in prison on racketeering and forced labor charges, the U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday.

Bladimir Moreno, owner of Los Villatoros Harvesting LLC, brought Mexican farm workers to the U.S. on what are known as H-2A agricultural visas and was accused of mistreating them.

“Human trafficking, including forced labor campaigns that exploit vulnerable workers, is unlawful, immoral and inhumane,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a prepared statement. “This defendant 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 lawful work paying a fair wage. The defendant forced Mexican agricultural workers to labor under inhumane conditions, confiscated their passports, imposed exorbitant fees and debts, and threatened them with deportation or false arrest.”

A Justice Department news release said Moreno “compelled” victims to work in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia and North Carolina.

U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell sentenced Moreno, 55, to 118 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, and conspiracy to commit forced labor, the news release said.

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