TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Polk County man will spend nearly 10 years behind bars for leading a forced farm labor operation that spanned several states, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Thursday, the DOJ announced that 55-year-old Bladimir Moreno, owner of Los Villatoros Harvesting LLC (LVH), was sentenced for a federal racketeering and forced labor conspiracy that exploited Mexican immigrants by forcing them to work in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Officials said Moreno and other co-conspirators brought large numbers of seasonal Mexican migrant workers on agricultural visas — all while charging the workers “inflated sums” to work. To get the visas, Moreno made false statements to the federal government.
Once here in the U.S., the workers would be forced to work in poor conditions even after their visas expired. Over a dozen of the migrants would be forced to work six to seven days a week for little pay while living in “crowded, unsanitary and degrading living conditions,” according to the DOJ.
“This defendant abused his power as a business owner to capitalize on the victims’ vulnerabilities and immigration status, luring those seeking a better quality of life with false promises of lawful work paying a fair wage,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The defendant forced Mexican agricultural workers to labor under inhumane conditions, confiscated their passports, imposed exorbitant fees and debts, and threatened them with deportation or false arrest.”
When investigators looked into Moreno’s criminal practices, he tried to hide it by falsifying the employees’ records and lying to the federal government.
“Forcing individuals to work against their will using abusive and coercive tactics is not only unconscionable but illegal,” said U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “We will continue to work with our task force partners to combat human trafficking in all its forms, including prosecuting those who exploit vulnerable workers.”
Moreno is the latest to be sentenced for his role in the conspiracy and will now serve 118 months in federal.
In October, U.S. District Judge Charlene Honeywell sentenced Christina Gamez, Mexican national Efrain Cabrera Rodas, and Guadalupe Mendes Mendoz for their role in helping Moreno in his criminal enterprise.