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Twenty-four defendants have been indicted on federal conspiracy charges after a transnational, multi-year investigation into a human smuggling and labor trafficking operations wherein Mexican and Central American workers were brought into brutal conditions on South Georgia Farms. Monday afternoon, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, David Estes, along with other integral agencies gave a briefing into what has been dubbed Operation Blooming Onion.

According to the 54 indictments that were unsealed Monday, the investigation, led by Homeland Security Investigations, named the defendants in a 53-page indictment that documents dozens of victims of modern-day slavery while spelling out the illegal acts that brought the exploited workers into the United States and imprisoned them under inhumane conditions as contractual agricultural laborers.

According to the indictments, farm workers were exploited by being required to dig onions with their bare hands, paid 20 cents for each bucket harvested, and threatened with guns and violence to keep them in line. Additionally, the workers were held in cramped, unsanitary quarters and fenced work camps with little or no food, limited plumbing and without safe water. The conspirators are accused of raping, kidnapping and threatening or attempting to kill some of the workers or their families, and in many cases, sold or traded the workers to other conspirators. At least two of the workers died as a result of workplace conditions. In the Southern District of Georgia, these activities were alleged to have taken place in Atkinson, Bacon, Coffee, Tattnall, Toombs and Ware counties as farmers paid the conspirators to provide contract laborers.

Those indicted  and their charges include:

  • Maria Leticia Patricio, 70, of Nichols, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; two counts of Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Daniel Mendoza, 40, of Ruskin, Fla., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Nery Rene Carrillo-Najarro, 56, Douglas, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; 14 counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Antonio Chavez Ramos, a/k/a “Tony Chavez,” 38, a citizen of Mexico illegally present in the United States, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; four counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • JC Longoria Castro, 46, Vidalia, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; four counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Victoria Chavez Hernandez, 38, a citizen of Mexico illegally present in the United States, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Enrique Duque Tovar, 36, of Axon, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; nine counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Jose Carmen Duque Tovar, 58, of Axon, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; nine counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Charles Michael King, 31, of Waycross, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Stanley Neal McGauley, 38, of Waycross, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Luis Alberto Martinez, a/k/a “Chino Martinez,” 41, of Tifton, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Delia Ibarra Rojas, 33, of Lyons, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; three counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Juana Ibarra Carrillo, 46, of Alma, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Donna Michelle Rojas, a/k/a “Donna Lucio,” 33, of Collins, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; three counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Margarita Rojas Cardenas, a/k/a “Maggie Cardenas,” 43, of Reidsville, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; three counts of Forced Labor; Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering; and Tampering with a Witness;
  • Juan Fransisco Alvarez Campos, 42, a citizen of Mexico illegally present in the United States, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Rosalvo Garcia Martinez, a/k/a “Chava Garcia,” 33, of Haines City, Fla., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering; and Tampering with a Witness;
  • Esther Ibarra Garcia, 63, of Dade City, Fla., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; three counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Rodolfo Martinez Maciel, 26, a citizen of Mexico illegally present in the United States, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; three counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Brett Donavan Bussey, 39, of Tifton, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; four counts of Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering; and Tampering with a Witness;
  • Linda Jean Facundo, 36, of Tifton, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Gumara Canela, 34, of Alma, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; 14 counts of Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering;
  • Daniel Merari Canela Diaz, 24, a citizen of Mexico illegally present in the United States, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering; and,
  • Carla Yvonne Salinas, 28, of Laredo, Texas, charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud; Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering.

The charges of Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor, and Forced Labor, each carry statutory penalties of up to life in prison, while the charges of Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud, Mail Fraud, Money Laundering Conspiracy, and Tampering with a Witness each carry statutory penalties of up to 20 years in prison. Each of the charges also include substantial financial penalties and periods of supervised release after completion of any prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.

Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case was investigated under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Operation Blooming Onion also is designated as a Priority Transnational Organized Crime Cases.

Agencies investigating Operation Blooming Onion include Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security; the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and Wage and Hour Division; U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service; the FBI; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the U.S. Marshals Service, with assistance from the Georgia National Guard; the Georgia Bureau of Investigation; the Georgia State Patrol; the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office; the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office; the Tattnall County Sheriff’s Office; the Bacon County Sheriff’s Office; and the Tift County Sheriff’s Office. The case is being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney and Human Trafficking Coordinator Tania D. Groover, and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Criminal Division Deputy Chief E. Greg Gilluly Jr., and Assistant U.S. Attorney Xavier A. Cunningham, Section Chief of the Asset Recovery Unit.

If you believe you have information about a potential trafficking situation call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking. All reports are confidential and you may remain anonymous. Interpreters are available.  The information you provide will be reviewed by the National Hotline and forwarded to specialized law enforcement and/or service providers where appropriate. 

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