A federal court unsealed charges against Pablo Duran Ramirez, 49, for labor trafficking conspiracy that forced minors to work at egg farms near Marion, Ohio. He is the seventh defendant in the case. Three persons have already been convicted for participating in the scheme in central Ohio. 

The charges were announced by Justin E. Herdman, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio; Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; and Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony of the FBI’s Cleveland Division.

The indictment that was unsealed on December 27 alleges that Duran Ramirez contracted to provide workers as virtual slaves for Trillium Farms while knowing that some of the workers were being trafficked. Besides the forced labor and conspiracy charges, Duran Ramirez is facing a charge of encouraging another person to illegally enter the United States. Duran Ramirez is an American citizen.

Three other defendants have pleaded guilty to participating in the trafficking scheme. Those defendants admitted to recruiting workers from Guatemala, some as young as 14 or 15 years old, with false promises of good jobs and a chance to attend school in the United States.  The defendants then smuggled and transported the workers to a trailer park in Marion, Ohio, where the youngsters were ordered to live in dilapidated trailers and work at physically demanding jobs at Trillium Farms for up to 12 hours a day.  The work included cleaning chicken coops, loading and unloading crates of chickens, de-beaking and vaccinating chickens. Eight minors and two adults were identified as victims of the scheme.

Aroldo Castillo-Serrano, the lead smuggler and primary enforcer, was sentenced to 188 months in prison. Ana Angelica Pedro-Juan, who oversaw the victims in Ohio, was sentenced to 120 months. Conrado Salgado-Soto, who arranged jobs for the victims, was sentenced to 51 months. According to the Department of Justice, Salgado-Soto was a subcontractor hired by Duran Ramirez.  

Senior United States District Judge James G. Carr found that the defendants threatened workers with physical harm and withheld their paychecks in order to compel them to work. Three additional defendants, including Duran Ramirez’s son, pleaded guilty to encouraging illegal entry into the United States in connection to the scheme.

The trafficking and conspiracy counts that Duran Ramirez is charged with carry sentences of up to 20 years. The count of encouraging the entry of illegal aliens carries a sentence of up to five years. Duran Ramirez was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol while attempting flight to Mexico.

Trillium Farms, which produces more than 2 billion eggs per year in central Ohio, claimed that it had no knowledge of the trafficking scheme. The company has not been charged. According to prosecutors, Trillium Farms paid about $6 million to Duran Ramirez and one other unnamed person.

In January 2016, Trillium announced that it was changing its procedure for hiring workers. Trillium COO Doug Mack said the company was "misled" by a Haba Corporate Services, and was unaware that Haba's owner was under investigation until Trillium got a visit from federal agents in 2014.

In a message to Cleveland.com, Mack wrote: "While we have the same requirements for our contractors, it is clear in this case we were misled by the contracting company, which intended to act illegally," adding, "Their actions are unacceptable, and we are pleased the court case is moving forward."

Aroldo Castillo-Serrano, a ringleader, forced the victims' families sign over deeds to their property in Guatemala to pay for transporting them. He was sentenced in 2016 to just over 15 years in prison. One of the trafficked teens told a court in 2016 that Castillo-Serrano threatened to kill his father after the teen complained about being forced to work. According to prosecutors, there were 35 victims in all, many were teens with the youngest being 14.

 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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