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‘The allegations detailed in the indictment are modern day slavery,’: 24 indicted in labor trafficking bust

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 5:59 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A major transnational visa fraud and labor trafficking investigation indicted 24 defendants and resulted in the rescue of more than 100 victims in what’s being called Operation Blooming Onion.

The criminal organization operated in various places including right here in the southern district of Georgia.

“The allegations detailed in the indictment are modern day slavery,” said David Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

On November 17, more than 200 federal agents from around the U.S. convened in the Southern District of Georgia to execute more than 20 federal search warrants at targeted locations. Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, David Estes, says members and associates of the organization called the Patricio Transnational Criminal Organization engaged in illegal activities ranging from mail fraud to forced labor.

“This organization fraudulently used the United States H-2A visa program to smuggle foreign nationals from Central America into the United States under the pretext of agricultural workers.”

The indictment states that these crimes took place since at least 2015 within several districts in Georgia, Florida, Texas, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Estes laid out the counties he says activity took place in Georgia’s southern district.

“In counties including Atkinson, Bacon, Coffee, Tattnall, Toombs, Ware.”

Estes says through the H-2A Visa program, foreign nationals can obtain work authorization in the U.S. if a qualifying sponsor petitions the U.S. government for a nonimmigrant visa on their behalf.

“As alleged in the indictment the organization mailed multiple false petitions to U.S. government seeking more than 71,000 foreign workers to enter the U.S. and work for agricultural employers and fraudulently caused the U.S. to issue tens of thousands of H-2A visas.”

Estes says what exploited these workers was the Patricio TCO organization underpaid them, used violence and threats to control them, traded and sold them to work at different locations, provided bad living conditions and more. Estes says they illegally profited more than $200,000,000 since the scheme began.

David Estes says that this is the largest law enforcement operation of this kind in history. If you or someone you know are a victim of human trafficking, you’re asked to call the human trafficking hotline at 1.888.373.7888.

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