Twenty-four Agricultural Construction Workers Allege RICO, Human Trafficking, and Federal Wage Violations against Illinois H-2A Employers in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
AUGUST 10, 2021, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – Legal Aid Chicago, with the Law Offices of Jordan & Zito LLC and Gair Eberhard Nelson Dedinas Ltd, filed a federal civil complaint today in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Illinois against Defendants Mauricio Luna, Marisol Luna, Alpha Agricultural Builders (“Alpha”), and Spartan Agricultural Builders (“Spartans”) on behalf of twenty-four agricultural construction workers. The complaint seeks relief for racketeering, human trafficking, forced labor, violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and other wrongful conduct, and seeks a finding of non-dischargeability of debts incurred because of that unlawful conduct.
The complaint alleges that Defendants did business under various names, including ML Farm Systems, Alpha, and Spartans. Mauricio Luna recruited workers through the H-2A Visa Program to construct swine and poultry enclosures throughout the Midwest and beyond. The complaint alleges that Defendants perpetrated chronic wage theft, failed to pay workers for hundreds of hours worked, and failed to reimburse workers for visa fees and travel expenses. When workers and other creditors sought payment, the Lunas’ conspired with others to create “zombie” companies to fraudulently shift assets in order to avoid the consequences of their unlawful conduct, the complaint alleges. “Our clients report that they were chronically underpaid, worked excessive hours under difficult and dangerous conditions, and were threatened when they protested. They are entitled to be paid for the hours they worked and remedied for any systemic abuse of the agricultural worker program,” said Mariyam Hussain, Supervisory Attorney of Legal Aid Chicago’s migrant farmworker project.
The complaint further alleges a practice of recruiting hundreds of workers over the years, promising them well-paid, lawful work, and the workers relied on those promises and incurred significant debts to come to the U.S., only to be exploited, abused, coerced into working without pay, and threatened with deportation if they complained about non-payment. The complaint alleges that Defendants forced workers to labor in unsafe conditions and to live in substandard housing with minimal food and water, and alleges that Defendants repeatedly lied to workers about payment, and, in some cases, threatened them with deportation and blacklisting with respect to future work in the United States. According to the complaint, these threats created an environment of fear and intimidation, which compelled them to continue working without pay and risk their health and safety.
H-2A visas allow foreign workers to come to the U.S. and perform seasonal or temporary agricultural work. The number of H-2A positions certified in the nation increased 70% between 2011 and 2019, climbing to 258,000. During the pandemic, labor trafficking of H-2A workers has increased.
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