TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Three people have been indicted in a multi-state conspiracy involving the forced labor of Mexican agricultural immigrants, federal authorities announced Wednesday.
A federal grand jury in Tampa formally charged Bladimir Moreno, Christina Gamez and Guadalupe Mendes Mendoza under a six-count indictment last week.
Moreno, a Mexican citizen and permanent U.S. resident who owned and managed Los Villatoros Harvesting, and Gamez, a U.S. citizen who worked for the company as a bookkeeper, manager and supervisor, face charges of conspiracy under the RICO Act, conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor and conspiracy to obstruct proceedings before departments, agencies and committees. Mendes Mendoza, a Mexican citizen who worked as a manager and supervisor for the company, was charged with conspiracy to obstruct proceedings before agencies.
According to the indictment, Moreno, Gamez and Mendes Mendoza ran a labor contracting company for migrant workers with temporary agricultural visas from 2015 through 2017. Los Villatoros Harvesting subjected multiple Mexican agricultural workers employed in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia and North Carolina to forced labor, investigators said. The company also harbored migrant workers in the U.S. after their H-2A visas had expired for financial gain and committed visa fraud and fraud in foreign labor contracting, officials said.
Moreno and Gamez operated Los Villatoros Harvesting as a criminal scheme, prosecutors said. They're accused of forcing workers to complete hundreds of hours of physically demanding agricultural labor through coercive means, such as imposing debts, confiscating passports, poor living conditions, verbal abuse and isolation, as well as threatening workers with arrest, deportation and physical harm.
Online court records didn't list attorneys for the three defendants.