Update from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

An update from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers
U.S. Department of Justice indicts the “Patricio Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO)” on felony charges of “international forced labor trafficking,” money laundering;
54-count indictment paints picture of operation’s staggering scale: 24 arrests, 71,000 farmworkers over multiple years, more than $200 million in profits;Quotes from indictment:
Patricio TCO “unlawfully charged Victims 52 and 53 fees that they could not afford, confiscated their identification documents to prevent them from leaving, forced them to work in fields digging up onions with their bare hands, only paid them twenty cents for every bucket they filled with onions, and threatened them with a gun to keep them in line…”
“… a member of the Patricio TCO, aided and abetted by Defendant Charles Michael King, and Defendant Stanley Neal McGauley, repeatedly raped, kidnapped, and tried to kill Victim #12…”
“… Victim 65 died from a heat stroke when he was outside working in the fields…”


Last month, we shared breaking news of the indictment of three farm labor bosses who had brutally exploited workers in the H-2A “guestworker” visa program as part of a major modern-day slavery operation on Florida farms.


Now, with Thanksgiving just days away – a holiday when families across the U.S. gather around tables full of lovingly-prepared food in celebration of our nation’s abundant harvests – a second modern-day slavery case in as many months involving agricultural guestworkers, this time based in South Georgia, is making headlines across the country.  From the U.S. Justice Department’s press release announcing the indictment:


WAYCROSS, GA:  … The newly unsealed, 54-count indictment in USA v. Patricio et al. details felony charges resulting from Operation Blooming Onion, an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. The multi-agency investigation, led by Homeland Security Investigations and other federal agencies, spans at least three years, and the 53-page indictment documents dozens of victims of modern-day slavery while spelling out the illegal acts that brought these exploited workers into the United States and imprisoned them under inhumane conditions as contract agricultural laborers, said David H. Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.


“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 Acting U.S. Attorney 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…”


The press release goes on to describe the unconscionable conditions workers were forced to endure, as well as the sophisticated money laundering operation alleged to have processed over $200 million in illegal profits:


… 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. In the Southern District of Georgia, these activities were alleged to have taken place in the counties of Atkinson, Bacon, Coffee, Tattnall, Toombs and Ware as farmers paid the conspirators to provide contract laborers.    


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.


U.S. vs. the Patricio Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) once again exposes the potential for extreme exploitation at the heart of the H-2A Program (for more context on the agricultural guestworker program’s sordid history, be sure to read our recent analysis of the H-2A Program – a labor system called “the closest thing I’ve ever seen to slavery” by U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel – here.)


We will be following developments in this massive and complex case of modern-day slavery in the months ahead.  In the meantime, over on the CIW site today we share more of the most appalling examples of systematic exploitation in U.S. vs. Patricio TCO, taken directly from the 53-page indictment — each a tragic reminder about the urgent and continuing need for the Fair Food Program.