Seven People Plead Innocent to Charges of Enslaving 100 Mexicans
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A flower grower pleaded innocent Tuesday to charges of enslaving more than 100 illegal aliens at a ranch where the laborers suffered beatings and were cheated, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Innocent pleas also were entered in U.S. District Court for six other defendants and the corporation that owns the ranch near Somis, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
A federal grand jury indicted rancher Edwin M. Ives, 54, and the six others on 15 counts, including violating labor and civil rights laws and a federal anti-slavery statute, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Jessner said.
If convicted on all counts, each defendant could face 52 years in prison and up to $2 million in fines.
Prosecutors allege smugglers lured Mexican workers, promising good pay at the ranch. Ives then kept the illegal aliens corralled behind a 7-foot fence to harvest flowers until they could each pay $435 in smuggling fees, prosecutors contend.
The workers toiled 16 hours a day for a fraction of the $4.25-per-hour minimum wage, and had to buy necessities from a company store at inflated prices, prosecutors said.
The indictment alleges the flower farm operators beat the aliens and threatened to alert immigration authorities if the workers tried to leave.
One worker apparently suffered permanent head and back injuries during a beating. Ives refused to pay for treatment in the United States and instead gave the worker $100 toward payment for treatment in Mexico, the indictment says.
Defense Attorney Robert M. Talcott said the case has been blown completely out of proportion.
″Anyone who has had the opportunity to visit the ranch can see with their own senses it is absolutely impossible to confine someone against their will on those premises,″ he said.
″The ranch is 50 acres. It is accessible to a main highway within walking distance to a small town. We know that people desirous of working in the United States from Latin America walk hundreds of miles, swim streams, crawl under fences and over fences to get here,″ Talcott said. ″To say that they could not walk away from this facility is ludicrous.″
Named in the indictment in addition to Ives were Griffith-Ives Company, foremen Pedro Pinzon-Juarez, 30; Rony Havive, 30; Alvaro Ruiz-Santiago, 39; Josue David Pinzon-Juarez, 23; Paringer Singh, age unknown, and an alleged alien smuggler, Mauro Casares-Padilla, 64.
Authorities arrested the defendants on April 27. They were released on $150,000 bond apiece. At earlier court appearances, the bond for Ruiz-Santiago was reduced to $50,000 and for David Pinzon-Juarez to $25,000. The bond for Singh, not one of the seven original defendants, was reduced to $15,000.