Workers arrested at southern Minn. farm
SLEEPY EYE, Minn. — A federal indictment alleges a criminal conspiracy in which a Nebraska man supplied illegal immigrants to work for ag-related facilities in Nebraska and Minnesota, including Sleepy Eye-based Christensen Farms, one of the largest hog producers in the nation.
Federal prosecutors allege in an indictment unsealed on Aug. 8 that the businesses hired the workers through third-party vendor Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, of O’Neill, Neb., knowing they could not work legally.
Dozens of agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations surrounded businesses suspected of employing illegal workers at several sites in southern Minnesota and Nebraska. They executed arrest warrants for 17 people connected to a conspiracy to exploit foreign workers and also detained at least 133 workers believed to be in the country illegally.
ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said about a dozen people were arrested at two Christensen facilities in Minnesota for alleged immigration violations. He said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nebraska is deciding on potential criminal charges against the businesses that employed the workers.
The Sleepy Eye headquarters of Christensen, which employs 110, has offices, a feed mill and truck wash. Agents also raided a Christensen truck wash facility in Appleton, Minn., and one of their farms in Atkinson, Neb.
Amber Portner, communications manager at Christensen, blamed the employment of illegal workers on a third-party vendor.
“We were surprised and disappointed to learn that one of our third-party vendors is not in compliance with immigration policies. At Christensen Farms, we have an expectation that all of partners and third-party vendors uphold the same high standards as our company,” she said in a statement.
The Washington Post reported that much of the ICE action focused on the small town of O’Neill, Neb., where a tomato greenhouse, potato processing facility and a cattle feedlot were raided.
Agents loaded those suspected of being in the country illegally onto coach buses and transported an ICE office building. Neudauer said at least half of those detained in both states were later released and brought back to the communities they were picked up in. He said many of those released face further legal proceedings over immigration status or criminal activity. Those detained in Minnesota were processed at ICE offices in the Twin Cities.
The alleged conspiracy to exploit the labor of these workers was laid out in a 14-page indictment. It centered on Delgado, who owned a local grocery store and operated a Mexican restaurant in O’Neill, called La Herradura.
Delgado is accused of recruiting and supplying an illegal workforce to various businesses, including Christensen.
The indictment alleges Delgado provided fraudulent names and Social Security numbers to the workers.
The indictment says that on payday Delgado would force employees to cash their paychecks at his grocery store and pay a fee each time. He allegedly told the workers the fee was to pay their federal income taxes, but that he kept the money.
More than $8 million was funneled through company bank accounts controlled by Delgado at Great Western Bank. The indictment said he bought properties with the money, including in Las Vegas.