Two plead guilty in labor trafficking scheme at work on Ohio egg farms

Two individuals have pleaded guilty to their work in a human labor trafficking scheme that brought in Guatemalans to the United States, some as young as 14, to work on Ohio egg farms and live in deplorable conditions.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach of the Northern District of Ohio, announced a guilty plea entered last week by the leader of the human trafficking ring.

Aroldo Castillo-Serrano, 33, of Guatemala, pleaded guilty to a labor trafficking conspiracy, one count of labor trafficking, one count of witness tampering, and a related immigration offense. Co-conspirator Conrado Salgado Soto, 52, of Mexico, took a guilty plea in early August for his participation in the same crime, as well as on an immigration offense, according to the Justice Department.

Officials say the individuals had lured Guatemalans, including adults and minors, into the United States on false pretenses, then used threats of physical harm to force their work at egg farms.

“These defendants exploited children who were poor, vulnerable and entirely at their mercy,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Gupta. “We will pursue and prosecute such behavior with all of the tools at our disposal.”

The guilty pleas at this time are pending approval from a federal court judge and are not final until an approval is granted. An indictment unsealed on July 2 states that the defendants and their associates recruited workers from Guatemala with the false promise of good jobs and a chance to attend school in the U.S. Some recruits were as young as 14 and 15 years old. Workers were then smuggled by the defendants to a trailer park in Marion where they were ordered to live in dilapidated trailers and work physically demanding jobs at Trillium Farms. Hours were long and pay was meager as the defendants threatened workers with physical harm and withheld their paychecks in order to compel them to work.

Castillo-Serrano also pleaded guilty to convincing a witness to lie to the FBI about the scheme. Eight minors and two adults were identified in the indictment as victims of the forced labor plot.

“The defendants forced adults and children to work and live in deplorable conditions in exchange for false promises,” said Stephen D. Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI Cleveland Division. “These reprehensible actions are unacceptable and the FBI will continue to work with our partners to bring to justice those that engage in human trafficking.”

Trillium Farms has not been charged. A statement released by Trillium company officials said they were misled by the labor contractors. According to their website, Trillium has locations in Croton and Johnstown with additional sites in Larue, Marseilles, and Mt. Victory.

“Our laws and a sense of common decency require that people not be treated like commodities,” said U.S. Attorney Dettelbach. “This defendant treated workers as if they were less important than the eggs that they would help produce. Now he is going to learn the hard way that in this nation, there is a big difference.”

Charges are still pending against a third co-conspirator, Ana Angelica Pedro Juan, 21, of Guatemala. Pedro Juan is charged with labor trafficking and conspiracy to commit labor trafficking, as well as witness tampering and making false statements to law enforcement. Two other defendants, Conrado Salgado-Borbon and Bartolo Dominguez, have pleaded guilty to immigration offenses in connection with this case.

Castillo-Serrano’s sentencing will be scheduled at a later date, and Salgado Soto’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 14. The forced labor counts and the witness tampering count each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The charges involving immigration violations and false statements carry statutory maximum sentences of five years in prison.

The investigation is ongoing. The case is being handled by the FBI Cleveland Office’s Mansfield Resident Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Marion Police Department and the Marion County Sherriff’s Office. The case is being jointly prosecuted by Trial Attorney Dana Mulhauser of the Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Chelsea Rice of the Northern District of Ohio.

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