Two Defendants Plead Guilty to Forced Labor Scheme that Exploited Guatemalan Migrants at Ohio Egg Farms
A leader of a human trafficking ring pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to charges that he lured Guatemalan minors and adults into the United States on false pretenses, then used threats of physical harm to compel their labor at egg farms in Ohio. The guilty plea was announced by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio.
Aroldo Castillo-Serrano, 33, of Guatemala, pleaded guilty to a labor trafficking conspiracy, one count of labor trafficking, one count of witness tampering and a related immigration offense. His co-conspirator, Conrado Salgado Soto, 52, of Mexico, pleaded guilty on Aug. 5 to participating in the same labor-trafficking conspiracy, as well as an immigration offense, the Justice Department also announced today. The guilty pleas are pending approval from a federal court judge and are not final until that approval is granted.
According to the indictment, which was unsealed on July 2, the defendants and their associates recruited workers from Guatemala, some as young as 14 or 15 years old, falsely promising them good jobs and a chance to attend school in the United States. The defendants then smuggled and transported the workers to a trailer park in Marion, Ohio, where they ordered them to live in dilapidated trailers and to work at physically demanding jobs at Trillium Farms for up to 12 hours a day for minimal amounts of money. The work included cleaning chicken coops, loading and unloading crates of chickens, de-beaking chickens and vaccinating chickens.
The defendants threatened workers with physical harm and withheld their paychecks in order to compel them to work. Castillo-Serrano also pleaded guilty to convincing a witness to lie to the FBI about the scheme. Eight minors, as young as 14, and two adults were identified in the indictment as victims of the forced labor scheme.
“These defendants exploited children who were poor, vulnerable and entirely at their mercy,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “We will pursue and prosecute such behavior with all of the tools at our disposal.”
“Our laws and a sense of common decency require that people not be treated like commodities,” said U.S. Attorney Dettelbach. “This defendant treated workers as if they were less important than the eggs that they would help produce. Now he is going to learn the hard way that in this nation, there is a big difference."
“The defendants forced adults and children to work and live in deplorable conditions in exchange for false promises,” said Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI Cleveland Division. “These reprehensible actions are unacceptable and the FBI will continue to work with our partners to bring to justice those that engage in human trafficking.”
Charges are still pending against a third co-conspirator, Ana Angelica Pedro Juan, 21, of Guatemala. Pedro Juan is charged with labor trafficking and conspiracy to commit labor trafficking, as well as witness tampering and making false statements to law enforcement. Two other defendants, Conrado Salgado-Borbon and Bartolo Dominguez, have pleaded guilty to immigration offenses in connection with this case.
The forced labor counts and the witness tampering count each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The charges involving immigration violations and false statements carry statutory maximum sentences of five years in prison.
The investigation is ongoing. The case is being investigated by the FBI Cleveland Office’s Mansfield Resident Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Marion Police Department and the Marion County Sherriff’s Office. The case is being jointly prosecuted by Trial Attorney Dana Mulhauser of the Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice of the Northern District of Ohio.