Two dozen defendants were indicted on federal conspiracy charges after a transnational, multi-year investigation into an alleged human smuggling and labor trafficking operation that illegally imported agricultural workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, fraudulently using the H-2A visa program, and kept them in brutal conditions on Georgia farms, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia announced.
The newly unsealed, 54-count indictment in USA v. Patricio et al. details felony charges resulting from “Operation Blooming Onion,” an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. The multi-agency investigation, led by Homeland Security Investigations and other federal agencies, spanned at least three years. The 53-page indictment documents dozens of victims of “modern-day slavery” brought to the United States as contract agricultural laborers.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, exploitation of the workers included “being required to dig onions with their bare hands, paid 20 cents for each bucket harvested, and threatened with guns and violence to keep them in line. The workers were held in cramped, unsanitary quarters and fenced work camps with little or no food, limited plumbing and without safe water. The conspirators are accused of raping, kidnapping and threatening or attempting to kill some of the workers or their families, and in many cases [the conspirators] sold or traded the workers to other conspirators. At least two of the workers died as a result of workplace conditions.” The perpetrators are alleged to have received more than $200 million from the scheme, which also included money laundering and witness intimidation and tampering.