Department of Justice Seal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CR FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 1997 (202) 616-2777 TDD (202) 514-1888


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Crew leader Miguel Flores and his associate, Sebastian Gomez, were sentenced today in South Carolina to 15 years in prison for holding migrant laborers as slaves and forcing them to work against their will, the Justice Department announced today.

In April, following their indictment on 25 counts of enslavement, extortion, immigration and labor violations, Flores and Gomez admitted to threatening and abusing South Carolina migrant workers. Today, the U. S. District Court in Charleston sentenced Flores and Gomez to 180 months in prison. Additionally both men must pay restitution in the amount of $39,615.

"Today's sentence means Miguel Flores is closed for business," said Isabelle Katz Pinzler, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "Flores and others like him should be on notice that the Department takes these cases seriously, and is committed to finding and prosecuting those who exploit vulnerable people for their own personal gain."

Since the 1980's, Flores provided labor to farmers to grow and harvest crops primarily in South Carolina and Florida. The two defendants admitted that they recruited Guatemalan and Mexican citizens from Chandler Heights, Arizona, at the border of the U.S. and Mexico, to work for their operation. The workers were then transferred in overcrowded vehicles from Arizona to the area of Manning, South Carolina without being allowed to use restroom facilities or eat while traveling.

Once transported, the workers were charged a "smuggling fee" which would have to be repaid through labor. Those who attempted to leave the operation before paying off their debt were beaten or threatened with physical harm. Because the laborers were given such little pay and charged exorbitant prices for essential goods provided by Flores, repayment was virtually unattainable.

Other Flores associates were sentenced earlier this year to prison terms and fines for their involvement in the operation.

Today's sentence results from a long-term investigation by the Department's Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorneys Office in South Carolina, the U.S. Border Patrol, and the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

"We are pleased that the hard fought efforts of government agencies working together has succeeded in bringing justice," added Pinzler.

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