WASHINGTON - Four defendants were sentenced today in federal district court in Fort Meyers, Fla., after pleading guilty to a scheme to enslave Mexican and Guatemalan nationals and compel their labor as farmworkers, the Justice Department announced today.
Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete were each sentenced to 12 years in prison and held jointly and severally liable, along with other co-defendants, for $239,882.46 in restitution payable to the victims. Defendant Ismael Michael Navarrete was sentenced to 46 months in prison, and Defendant Villhina Navarrete was sentenced to time served. Both Ismael and Villhina were also joined in the order of restitution. All defendants will be removed from the United States following the completion of their sentences.
A total of six defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme. All defendants pleaded guilty to harboring undocumented foreign nationals for private financial gain and related felonies. Defendants Cesar Navarrete and Geovanni Navarrete also pleaded guilty to beating, threatening, restraining and locking workers in trucks to force them to work as agricultural laborers, in addition to other related crimes. According to documents filed in court, the defendants were accused of paying the workers minimal wages and driving them into debt, while simultaneously threatening physical harm if the workers left their employment before their debts had been repaid to the Navarrete family.
"These defendants used physical coercion and abuse to force the victims to work for their own financial benefit," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "This case further demonstrates the Justice Department’s committed to vigorously prosecuting all those who engage in human trafficking."
"This case shows that human slavery is not a thing of the past, but an ugly crime that still continues to afflict our communities," said A. Brian Albritton, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. "We encourage those who learn of such mistreatment to report it to local, state or federal authorities."
The prosecution of human trafficking offenses is a top priority of the Justice Department. Since the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, human trafficking prosecutions brought by the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys Offices have resulted in a 455 percent increase in defendants charged, and a 581 percent increase in convictions and guilty pleas as compared to the prior eight-year period. In Fiscal Year 2008, the Department filed a record number of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking cases.
This case was investigated by agents from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and investigators from the Collier County Sheriffs Department. Victim assistance was provided by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, and the Florida Freedom Partnership. This case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Susan French and Adriana Vieco of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy of the Middle District of Florida.