COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA — Enrique Balcazar, 37, and Elizabeth Balcazar, 21,– both of Batesburg – and Balcazar Nature Harvesting, LLC (BNH) have been sentenced in federal court for labor trafficking, confiscating passports in connection with labor trafficking, and fraud in foreign labor contracting.
Evidence presented in Court indicated that Enrique Balcazar and his daughter Elizabeth Balcazar operated BNH, which provided seasonal agricultural labor to farms in the Lexington County area. In early 2021, the defendants incorporated the business and obtained permission from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to recruit foreign national agricultural workers by promising it would provide particular work conditions for its workers.
Elizabeth then travelled to Mexico and recruited 55 Mexican nationals to work for BNH in Lexington County in exchange for those same promises. Each worker obtained an H-2A temporary agricultural worker visa that authorized them to lawfully work in the United States. Elizabeth travelled by bus with the workers back to Lexington County, where she and her father brought the workers to a camp facility in Batesburg where they would live and work for BNH. Enrique and Elizabeth confiscated the workers’ passports and visas the same day they arrived.
From April 2021 to December 2021, BNH subjected the workers to forced and exploitative labor. Rather than the 40 hours of work per week promised, victims were made to work nearly twice that, and some weeks as many as 90 hours. Because BNH only paid victim workers for 40 hours, the workers received no pay at all for a portion of their work. BNH further failed to pay promised wages for the hours they did pay, and they engaged in illegal cost-shifting by requiring workers’ pay for transportation, visas, food, and work equipment.
Workers were also made to work outside of the location BNH promised, and some mornings workers were woken at 3:00 A.M. or 4:00 A.M. to travel to a work site. Workers were returned at 10:00 P.M. or 11:00 P.M., which is when they were provided dinner. The defendants promised to provide three meals a day, but instead they provided two meals a day, for which BNH improperly deducted from worker paychecks.
Enrique used force and coercion to keep workers with BNH, including by threatening deportation, confiscating passports and visas, brandishing and discharging firearms, failing to provide medical care, placing locks on the outside of the facility where workers slept, and by posting armed guards at the camp facility. Workers eventually began to escape and speak with victim service providers, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (HSI).
In December 2021, a federal search warrant was executed at BNH, where agents seized 23 firearms, ammunition, body armor, at least 9 victim passports from BNH. Following that search, service providers provided victim assistance and DOL investigated workplace conditions.
Federal charges were brought, and Enrique Balcazar pled guilty to Labor Trafficking in violation 18 U.S.C. § 1589 and Passport Confiscation in Furtherance of Labor Trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1592. Elizabeth Balcazar and BNH pled guilty to Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1351.
United States District Judge Sherri A. Lydon sentenced the defendants, and at sentencing the Court heard from nineteen victims through written victim impact statements.
Enrique Balcazar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison, $11,332.90 in restitution, 3 years of Court-ordered supervision to follow his term of imprisonment, he will be placed in immigration removal proceedings following imprisonment, and 23 firearms, ammunition, body armor, and more than $32,000 in funds were ordered to be forfeited. There is no parole in the federal system.
Elizabeth Balcazar was sentenced to time served (two months), she was ordered to pay a total of $508,125.89 in restitution to 55 victim workers largely related to unpaid wages, plus 3 years of Court-ordered supervision, 1 year of a curfew, and 100 hours of community service at an organization that serves the immigrant community.
BNH was ordered to pay $508,125.89 in restitution to 55 victim workers, more than $32,000 in business funds were forfeited, and the business was sentenced to 3 years of probation.
“Our office will not tolerate forced labor or the exploitation of foreign national workers in South Carolina,” said U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs. “Human trafficking violates people’s most basic human rights, and the Department will continue to bring every resource we have to combat it. We thank our law enforcement and service provider partners for their critical work in this case.”
“Identifying and stopping those who are involved in labor exploitation not only protects workers from unjust and inhumane treatment, but also prevents unfair competitive advantages that harm the labor market,” said Ronnie Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Charlotte, which covers North and South Carolina. “Hopefully, the results of this case will encourage others being exploited to come forward and seek help.”
“Victims of labor trafficking deserve justice. Our communities are safe when we show that labor trafficking will not be tolerated in South Carolina,” said SLED Chief Mark Keel. “SLED will continue to work together with local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as prosecutors and other community partners, so the people and businesses that look to harm and exploit these individuals will face consequences.”
“Human trafficking is among the most heinous crimes against workers, especially when employers prey on our society’s most vulnerable members,” said U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division District Director Jamie Benefiel. “These victim workers traveled far from home to provide for their families and found themselves stripped of their dignity, freedom, and basic human rights. The U.S. Department of Labor and its Wage and Hour Division are engaged in a battle to identify human trafficking, to end the misery it brings, and to hold those who callously engage in it accountable.”
The case was investigated by HSI, SLED, and DOL. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elliott B. Daniels and Carrie Fisher Sherard prosecuted the case.
Brook Andrews, First Assistant United States Attorney, U.S. Attorney’s Office, firstname.lastname@example.org, (803) 929-3000