Department of Justice SealDepartment of Justice
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
(202) 514-2007
TDD (202) 514-1888

Brothers Plead Guilty to Enslaving Farmworkers in Florida, Co-defendants Plead Guilty to Related Felonies

WASHINGTON - Cesar Navarrete, Geovanni Navarrete, Villhina Navarrete, Ismael Michael Navarrete and Antonio Zuniga Vargas pleaded guilty to charges relating to a scheme to enslave and Mexican and Guatemalan nationals and compel their labor as farmworkers, the Justice Department announced today.

All five defendants pleaded guilty to harboring undocumented foreign nationals for private financial gain and identify theft. In addition, Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete pleaded guilty to beating, threatening, restraining and locking workers in trucks to force them to work for them as agricultural laborers. Cesar Navarrete also pleaded guilty to re-entering the U.S. after being convicted of a felony and deported, and Ismael Navarrete also pleaded guilty to document fraud. Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete face up to 35 and 25 years in prison, respectively. The other defendants face a range of 10-25 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for various dates in September and December 2008.

The defendants were accused of paying the workers minimal wages, driving them into debt, while simultaneously threatening physical harm if the workers left their employment before their debts had been repaid to the family.

Previously, co-defendant Jose Navarrete entered a guilty plea for conspiracy to harbor and to harboring undocumented foreign nationals for financial gain as well as possession of false documents, identify theft and re-entry after being deported. Jose Navarrete faces up to 37 years in prison.

"In this case, we are given yet another example of how human trafficking of all kinds victimizes vulnerable human beings," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department is committed to vigorously prosecuting those who engage in this criminal conduct."

The prosecution of human trafficking offenses is a top priority of the Justice Department. In the last seven fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, has increased by nearly seven-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court as compared to the previous seven fiscal years. In fiscal year 2007, the Department obtained a record number of convictions in human trafficking prosecutions.

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 and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. This case is being 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.