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South Ga. residents among 24 indicted in human smuggling, labor trafficking operation

David H. Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, speaks during a news...
David H. Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, speaks during a news conference Nov. 22, 2021, to announce indictments in USA v. Patricio et al, Operation Blooming Onion, a human trafficking investigation naming 24 defendants on felony charges including human smuggling and document fraud. With Estes are (from left) Katrina Berger, Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Office of Homeland Security Investigations; Michael Imperatrice, Resident Agent in Charge, Savannah HSI Office; Jessica Moore, Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division for the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service; Rafiq Ahmad, Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General; Henry Deblock, Savannah Area Port Director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection; George "Will" Clarke, Supervisory Senior Resident Agent, FBI Savannah; John Britt, Savannah/Jacksonville Team Leader, U.S. Postal Inspection Service; David Lyons, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Georgia; Maj. Fred Cole, Chief Deputy of the Coffee County Sheriff's Office; and Capt. Marcus Dunlap, Coffee County Sheriff's Office.(Photo courtesy of U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Georgia)
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 5:45 PM EST
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WAYCROSS, Ga. (WALB) - A total of 24 people have been indicted on federal conspiracy charges following Operation Blooming Onion (OBO), according to a press release from the office of David Estes, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

The release explains that Blooming Onion was a multi-agency and “multi-year investigation into a human smuggling and labor trafficking operation that illegally imported Mexican and Central American workers into brutal conditions on South Georgia farms.”

A 54-count indictment details the felony charges stemming from OBO.

Below is a copy of the full indictment.

Below is a list of those indicted and what they’ve been charged with according to the release:

  • Maria Leticia Patricio, 70, of Nichols: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to engage in forced labor, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • 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.

Background:

The press release states that several agencies worked together and “began investigating the Patricio transnational criminal organization in November 2018.”

The indictment alleges that in or before 2015, the conspirators and their associates “engaged in mail fraud, international forced labor trafficking, and money laundering, among other crimes,” fraudulently using the H-2A work visa program to smuggle foreign nationals from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras into the United States under the pretext of serving as agricultural workers.”

The U.S. attorney’s office reported that “conspirators required the workers to pay unlawful fees for transportation, food, and housing while illegally withholding their travel and identification documents, and subjected the workers ‘to perform physically demanding work for little or no pay, housing them in crowded, unsanitary, and degrading living conditions, and by threatening them with deportation and violence.’”

Some of the exploitations of the workers included being required to dig onions with their bare hands and being paid 20 cents for each bucket harvested, the release describes. It goes on to say that the workers were threatened with guns and violence to keep them in line. It also states that they 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.

According to the release, the conspirators are “alleged to have reaped more than $200 million from the illegal scheme, laundering the funds through cash purchases of land, homes, vehicles and businesses; through cash purchases of cashier’s checks; and by funneling millions of dollars through a casino.”

As the investigation continued in 2019, the indictment claims “that three of the conspirators attempted to intimidate and persuade a witness to lie to a federal grand jury and deny any knowledge of the illegal activities of the Patricio organization.”

To see the full press release, visit the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia’s website here.

“The American dream is a powerful attraction for destitute and desperate people across the globe, and where there is need, there is greed from those who will attempt to exploit these willing workers for their own obscene profits,” said Estes. “Thanks to outstanding work from our law enforcement partners, Operation Blooming Onion frees more than 100 individuals from the shackles of modern-day slavery and will hold accountable those who put them in chains.”

More than 200 law enforcement officers and federal agents from around the United States convened in the Southern District of Georgia to execute more than 20 federal search warrants at target locations.

According to the press release, the charges of conspiracy to engage in forced labor, and forced labor, each carry statutory penalties of up to life in prison. 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 and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

If you believe you have information about a potential trafficking situation, you can 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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