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Press Release

Owner of Vashon Island landscaping company convicted of human trafficking, labor trafficking, and money laundering felonies

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington
Paid to have non-citizens brought across border and exploited their labor for his profit on upscale island near Seattle

Seattle –A 45-year-old Vashon Island, Washington resident was convicted in U.S. District Court in Seattle of 21 federal felonies related to human trafficking and forced labor, announced U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. Jesus Ruiz-Hernandez, aka Christo Jesus Escobar Solares, was found guilty following a 13-day jury trial. Jurors deliberated one and a half days before returning the guilty verdicts on multiple counts of forced labor, transporting and harboring people without status in the U.S., and money laundering. U.S. District Judge James L. Robart set sentencing for April 30, 2024 at 9:30am.

Records filed in the case and testimony at trial revealed that Ruiz-Hernandez lured victims from his hometown of Vista Hermosa, Michoacan, with the promise of a better life for their families. In exchange, Ruiz-Hernandez required victims to put up collateral, including the temporary relinquishment of parental rights and interest in family properties. Ruiz-Hernandez, using smugglers he hired, brought the undocumented victims to the U.S. and then forced them to work for his company, Brothers Landscaping, on Vashon Island. He then charged the victims exorbitant fees for rent, food, and other expenses, housed them both in his home and worker properties and held ever increasing debts over their heads. 

In the spring of 2017, Ruiz-Hernandez used smugglers to bring an adult victim to the United States and then used force, threats of force, and physical violence to force the victim to work for him without pay. The jury found Ruiz-Hernandez committed aggravated sexual abuse against the victim. From 2018 until August 2021, Ruiz-Hernandez forced a second victim he had brought to the U.S.  to work for him by threatening him with harm. The victim was also transported and harbored for financial gain. In all, Ruiz-Hernandez was convicted of exploiting the labor of seven people not legally in the U.S. As prosecutors said in closing arguments, “For years Ruiz-Hernandez ensured a steady pipeline of workers for his landscaping business… He used their undocumented status and inability to speak English to prey on them.”

Ruiz-Hernandez presented himself as an upstanding and hardworking businessman on Vashon Island. He conned many unsuspecting homeowners and businessowners into hiring his company, consisting of the victims and others, many who were thousands of miles from home, did not speak, read, or write the English language and were dependent on him. It was because of this ongoing work Ruiz-Hernandez was able to continue his exploitive scheme, fueling his lavish lifestyle that benefited himself and his family for years.

Ruiz-Hernandez was also convicted of six counts of money laundering. Testimony revealed that Ruiz-Hernandez and his brothers had deposited over $1.5 million in checks from customers to their bank account between 2017 and 2022. Much of those funds were payment for the work done by the victims and others the defendant illegally brought to the U.S., trafficked, harbored, and exploited. Ruiz-Hernandez took steps to keep his name off corporate documents, financial records, numerous transactions, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of international wires to Mexico. Ruiz-Hernandez and his co-conspirators used some of that laundered proceeds to purchase two pieces of property on the island. Some of the money laundering counts relate to Ruiz-Hernandez sending money, and directing employees to send money, to Mexico to pay fees to coyotes for transport of his victims across the border.

Following the trial on the human and labor trafficking counts, the jury determined that the properties on Vashon were purchased with laundered proceeds of his illegal scheme and ordered that the properties should be forfeited to the government.

Forced labor is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and up to life imprisonment if the jury determines that the offense involved aggravated sexual abuse. Transporting an undocumented person for financial gain and harboring an undocumented person for financial gain are each punishable by up to ten years in prison. Bringing an undocumented person to the United States for financial gain is punishable by a mandatory minimum three years in prison and up to ten years in prison.

The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Task Force Officer Megan Bruneau Zentner. Detective Zentner is with the Seattle Police Department, assigned to the HSI Task Force. Detective Zentner’s position is federally funded by the Department of Justice’s Enhanced Collaborative Model with a focus on investigating labor trafficking of foreign-born victims.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Kate Crisham, Jocelyn Cooney, and Jehiel Baer. Ms. Crisham is the Western District of Washington coordinator of efforts to stop human trafficking.


Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or

Updated January 26, 2024

Human Trafficking