BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WRBL) – A Georgia man and two undocumented immigrants were sentenced to federal prison in separated but related cases. They all confessed to supplying forced labor for several south Georgia farms.
Javier Sanchez Mendoza Jr., 24, of Jesup, Georgia, received 360 months in prison after he pled guilty to conspiracy to engage in forced labor.
After he pled guilty to forced labor, Aurelio Medina, 42, of Brunswick, Georgia, received 64 months in prison.
Yordon Velazquez Victoria, 45, of Brunswick, Georgia, received 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, announced U.S. Attorney David H. Estes.
Both Mendoza and Medina are citizens of Mexico and are illegally living in the United States. After serving their prison terms, they are subject to deportation.
“These men engaged in facilitating modern-day slavery,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “Our law enforcement partners have exposed an underworld of human trafficking, and we will continue to identify and bring to justice those who would exploit others whose labors provide the fuel for their greed.”
The cases are a part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force’s investigation “Operation Blooming Onion.”
The operation tracked a large-scale conspiracy to bring farm workers from Central America to the United States through the H-2A visa program under fraudulent pretenses to profit from their labor by underpaying the workers and keeping them in low-standard conditions.
According to court records and testimony, Mendoza confessed that from August 2018 to November 2019, in Glynn, Wayne, and Pierce counties, he was the leader of a scheme to obtain and provide labor for farms and other businesses.
Mendoza recruited and unlawfully charged more than 500 Central American citizens to obtain H-2A visas, withheld the workers’ identification papers, threatened the workers and their families, and forced them to work for little to no pay in poor conditions.
During Mendoza’s sentence hearing, a victim testified that he selected her from a work crew and brought her to live with him.
According to the victim, Mendoza maintained control by making threats and repeatedly raping her for more than a year. The victim also claimed Mendoza deceived her into believing that she married him.
Additionally, the victim claimed that Mendoza kidnapped her at knifepoint after she attempted to escape.
Law enforcement agencies traced the female victim to Mendoza’s home in Jesup, Georgia, rescued her, and discovered a Santa Muerte “Saint Death” shrine decorated with her hair and blood.
Medina confessed that in Glynn and Effingham counties from April to October 2020, he charged non-native workers to obtain H-2A visas and withheld their identification documents.
Victoria, a naturalized U.S. citizen, confessed he assisted Medina and allowed Medina to use his name when applying for the use of H-2A workers and assisted in transporting the workers from housing to work. Medina paid Victoria $600 weekly for his help.
The investigation into forced labor in south Georgia continues through U.S.A. v. Patricio et al., where 23 defendants are charged with labor trafficking, visa fraud, and money laundering.
“Mendoza, Medina and Victoria misused the H-2A program in order to enrich themselves at the expense of foreign workers and American employers,” said Mathew Broadhurst, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Atlanta Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division to vigorously pursue those who commit fraud involving foreign labor programs.”
Homeland Security Investigations is investigating the cases along with, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security, and the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. The case was also investigated by the Wage and Hour Division, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the U.S. Postal Service, and the FBI.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney and Human Trafficking Coordinator Tania D. Groover and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Criminal Division Deputy Chief E. Greg Gilluly Jr.