Farm Bosses In Immokalee Plead Guilty In Slavery Scheme

Farm bosses in Immokalee plead guilty in slavery scheme

By Jay Weaver
The Miami Herald (FL), September 4, 2008

Five farm bosses have pleaded guilty to a scheme to enslave Mexican and Guatemalan nationals as agricultural workers in southwest Florida, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Cesar Navarrete, Geovanni Navarrete, Villhina Navarrete, Ismael Michael Navarrete and Antonio Zuniga Vargas were convicted of harboring undocumented immigrants for profit and identify theft in the farming community of Immokalee, authorities said.

Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete also pleaded guilty to beating, threatening, restraining and locking workers in trucks to force them to work.

They face up to 35 and 25 years in prison, respectively. The other defendants face 10 to 25 years in prison.

Previously, codefendant Jose Navarrete had pleaded guilty to harboring undocumented foreigners for profit. He faces up to 37 years in prison.

According to prosecutors, the defendants were accused of paying the workers minimal wages and driving them into debt, threatening physical harm if they left before their debts were repaid to the Navarrete family.

''In this case, we are given yet another example of how human trafficking of all kinds victimizes vulnerable human beings,'' said Grace Chung Becker, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

This case was investigated by agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI, assisted by the Collier County Sheriff's Department. Victim assistance was provided by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. It was prosecuted by the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Florida.