Trillium Farms of Ohio says it didn’t know some of its workers were illegal immigrants working as virtual slaves on its farms that market about 17 million dozen eggs a year.
A federal judge sentenced two men to prison on Monday for taking part in a scheme to smuggle teens into the U.S. and keep them as virtual slaves at the farms, but he delayed sentencing for the ringleader after learning he had not given up properties taken from the victims' families.
In 2014, federal agents raided a dilapidated trailer park near Marion where the 10 young Guatemalans had been living with no heat and little food. Some said they were lured with the promise of attending school in the U.S. or plucked out of custody at the Mexican border. Eight were under age 18.
The teens and young men were forced to work at the egg farm and turn over most of their earnings to pay for their passage to the U.S., investigators said.
One of the young men spoke in court Monday, revealing he was 17 when he was smuggled over the border and thought he would be attending classes.
The man, whose name was shielded to protect his identity, said when he complained, the smuggling operation's leader, Aroldo Castillo-Serrano, called his father.
"He threatened my father with three bullets," the young man said through a translator. "That's when I started to worry about my family."
While he was speaking, Castillo-Serrano sat on the other side of the courtroom with his arms folded, glaring at the young man.
Prosecutors say he engineered the scheme, making victims' family members sign over deeds to their property in Guatemala to pay for transporting the boys, with assurances they would be enrolled in school.
U.S. District Judge James Carr delayed part of the sentencing because he said the properties were still held by relatives of Castillo-Serrano. He angrily told him to get rid of the properties by late June or face a much stiffer sentence.
The judge told him that he "will see to it that nobody profits anyway whatsoever from the crimes you committed."
Castillo-Serrano, a Guatemalan who is in the U.S. illegally, most likely faces at least a decade in prison. He agreed to plead guilty last year to forced labor conspiracy, forced labor, witness tampering and encouraging illegal entry into the country.
Trillium Farms faces no charges.