3 men convicted in Georgia farm forced labor investigation


AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Three men have been sentenced to federal prison in a wide-ranging investigation into what authorities said was a massive conspiracy to bring workers from Central America to the United States for the forced labor on farms in southern Georgia.

The three men were charged in separate but related cases related to a federal investigation dubbed Blooming Onion, prosecutors said in a news release. Authorities say the farm workers were brought to the United States under the H-2A farm visa program, then the men profited from their labor by underpaying them and forcing them to live in substandard conditions Standards.

“These men are committed to facilitating modern slavery,” U.S. Attorney David Estes said in a press release. “Our law enforcement partners have exposed an underworld of human trafficking, and we will continue to identify and bring to justice those who exploit others whose work fuels their greed.”

Javier Sanchez Mendoza Jr., 24, of Jesup, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in forced labor and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Aurelio Medina, 42, of Brunswick, pleaded guilty to hard labor and was sentenced to five years and four months. Yordon Velazquez Victoria, 45, of Brunswick, was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy.

Mendoza and Medina are Mexican citizens living illegally in the United States and subject to deportation once they complete their prison terms, prosecutors said.

Mendoza admitted that from August 2018 to November 2019, he spearheaded a program to provide labor and services to farms and other businesses in Glynn, Ware and Pierce counties, the report says. communicated. He recruited over 500 people from Central America and illegally charged them with H-2A visas and withheld their identity papers and forced them to work for little or no pay in terrible conditions by threatening them and their families back home, prosecutors said.

A victim testified at sentencing that Mendoza picked her from a work crew after she arrived from Mexico and brought her to live with him, tricking her into believing she had married him. He controlled her through threats and intimidation, repeatedly raping her, for more than a year, prosecutors said.

After escaping, Mendoza kidnapped her at knifepoint from the front yard of a home where she was babysitting, prosecutors said. Law enforcement officers who found her in Mendoza’s mobile home in Jesup and rescued her found a shrine dedicated to Santa Muerte, “Saint Death”, decorated with her hair and blood, says the press release. Mendoza faces aggravated assault charges related to this.

Medina admitted that from April to October 2020, he charged foreign workers for H-2A visas and then withheld their identification documents in Glynn and Effingham counties. Victoria, a naturalized U.S. citizen, admitted that he allowed Medina to use his name to apply to use H-2A workers and that he was paid $600 a week to bring workers from their accommodation to work.

Prosecutors said the investigation into forced labor in South Georgia and elsewhere continues in a federal case in which 23 people are charged with alleged conspiracy to commit labor trafficking, fraud visas and money laundering.


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