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3 charged in Florida with years-long forced migrant-labor conspiracy

A Bartow company, Los Villatoros Harvesting, was at the center of the investigation by agencies in Palm Beach County.
A federal grand jury in Tampa charges three people with coercing migrant workers from Mexico to work using illegal means, including imposing debts, confiscating passports, verbal abuse and isolation, as well as threats of arrest, deportation and physical harm.
A federal grand jury in Tampa charges three people with coercing migrant workers from Mexico to work using illegal means, including imposing debts, confiscating passports, verbal abuse and isolation, as well as threats of arrest, deportation and physical harm. [ Photo illustration by ASHLEY DYE and MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Sep. 23

TAMPA — Three people have been indicted in a multi-state conspiracy involving the forced labor of Mexican agricultural immigrants, federal authorities announced Wednesday.

A federal grand jury in Tampa formally charged Bladimir Moreno, Christina Gamez and Guadalupe Mendes Mendoza under a six-count indictment last week. A company at the center of the conspiracy charges is based in the Polk County community of Bartow. The agencies that investigated the case are in Palm Beach County.

Moreno, a Mexican citizen and permanent U.S. resident who owned and managed Los Villatoros Harvesting, and Gamez, a U.S. citizen who worked for the company as a bookkeeper, manager and supervisor, face charges of conspiracy under the RICO Act, conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor and conspiracy to obstruct proceedings before departments, agencies and committees.

Mendes Mendoza, a Mexican citizen who worked as a manager and supervisor for the company, was charged with conspiracy to obstruct proceedings before agencies.

According to the indictment, Moreno, Gamez and Mendes Mendoza ran a labor contracting company for migrant workers with temporary agricultural visas from 2015 through 2017. The company, Los Villatoros Harvesting, subjected a number of Mexican agricultural workers employed in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia and North Carolina to forced labor, investigators said.

The company also harbored migrant workers in the U.S. after their H-2A visas had expired for financial gain and committed visa fraud and fraud in foreign labor contracting, officials said.

Moreno and Gamez operated Los Villatoros Harvesting as a criminal scheme, prosecutors said. They’re accused of forcing workers to complete hundreds of hours of physically demanding agricultural labor through coercive means, such as imposing debts, confiscating passports, poor living conditions, verbal abuse and isolation, as well as threatening workers with arrest, deportation and physical harm.

Online court records didn’t list attorneys for the three defendants.

Moreno is listed as manager of Los Villatoros Harvesting in records filed with the Florida Division of Corporations that date back to 2010. The address of the company was listed as 8331 Alturas Road in a rural area southeast of Bartow. The company was dissolved in 2019, records show.

This case was investigated by the Palm Beach County Human Trafficking Task Force, made of the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, with help from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of State.