A newly unsealed indictment shows that several federal law enforcement agencies uncovered what they think is one of the largest cases of human trafficking and visa fraud in the U.S., VICE reports.
As the outlet states:
While migrants toiled in Georgia’s fields as contract laborers, some of them dug onions with their bare hands for pennies per bucket, and people threatened them with a gun. Members of the accused human smuggling and labor trafficking operation held onto their passports and documents to keep them from escaping, the indictment alleges.
The investigation— “Operation Blooming Onion”— led to a list of felony charges against two dozen accused members and associates of what appears to be a transnational crime ring, which the feds have called the Patricio transnational criminal organization.
A 70-year-old woman Maria Leticia Patricio, listed as one of the defendants, is accused of filing fraudulent petitions for the H-2A work visa program, which allows employers to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to work in temporary agricultural work.
According to the indictment, some were also “illegally forced to do lawn care, construction, and restaurant work; and others were threatened with violence or deportation,” VICE states.
According to the Justice Department, the workers “were held in cramped, unsanitary quarters and fenced work camps with little or no food, limited plumbing and without safe water.”
As VICE states, workers were “unlawfully sold and traded to other conspirators within the crime ring…that made more than $200 million as part of the scheme.”
Law enforcement began investigating the organization in November 2018. They targeted 24 defendants for human trafficking, as per the indictment.