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HSI Norfolk labor trafficking investigation leads to historic sentencing for 4 Virginians

Human RightsHSI Norfolk labor trafficking investigation leads to historic sentencing for 4 Virginians

NORFOLK, Va. — An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Norfolk and the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force resulted in four Virginia residents receiving prison sentences for their part in a labor trafficking scheme. The investigation, which is being called the most significant of its kind in the Hampton Roads area, wrapped up Aug. 8 when the final two subjects received prison sentences.

HSI Norfolk, the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia announced the historic sentencings at a press conference Aug. 9 at the Norfolk Federal Building in Norfolk.

“The subjects of this investigation perpetuated a labor trafficking enterprise where children were forced to work long hours in inhospitable conditions,” said HSI Norfolk Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jim Stitzel. “These criminals operated a family-based labor trafficking venture where they smuggled their workforce into the United States from El Salvador.

According to the HSI-led investigation, Ana Patricia Landaverde, 47, a citizen of El Salvador; Jeffrey Dean Vaughan, 64, of Williamsburg; George William Evans, 68, of Midlothian; and Salvador Jeronimo-Sis, a citizen of Guatemala, engaged in a conspiracy to harbor, transport and benefit from employing undocumented noncitizens at their commercial laundry business, Northstar Holdings of Virginia, LLC, d/b/a Magnolia Cleaning Services, LLC.

“These sentencings are a great example of what can be accomplished when federal, state and local law enforcement agencies work in collaboration,” said HSI Washington, D.C. Special Agent in Charge Derek W. Gordon. “We will continue our partnership with our law enforcement partners through the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force. HSI will continue to work to disrupt and dismantle criminal organizations like Magnolia Cleaning Services in order to keep our communities safe from criminal elements who would do harm to our residents.”

The defendants referred prospective employees lacking U.S. work authorization to Jeronimo-Sis, who supplied fraudulent identification documents such as permanent resident cards and social security cards.

“Traffickers target the most vulnerable among us,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Jessica Aber. “The offenders in these trafficking cases rely on a narrative that society does not care about the victims in order to control and abuse them. We assembled here do care. No one, regardless of age, social status, immigration status or personal history, deserves to have their bodies or their efforts exploited for the gain of others.”

The investigation further revealed that between the first quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2022, the business’ records reflect approximately 120 employees with alleged invalid or mismatched Social Security numbers, as well as wage payments of more than $1.2 million to those employees.

“I am so incredibly proud of the work done by the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force,” said Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares. “What you see in front of you is what happens when federal, state and local law enforcement collaborate to be a voice for the voiceless. As a resident of this area, I was horrified by this case, but also incredibly grateful of the remarkable work done by HSI Norfolk, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, who worked together to bring these traffickers to justice and protect Virginians from this insidious crime.”

Landaverde, Vaughan and Evans engaged in human trafficking from Central America and benefited from forced labor. The investigation revealed that one victim was brought to the United States at the age of 13 and forced to work nights while attending school during the day. The investigation further revealed that the trio threatened another victim with deportation and physical violence while forcing her to pay rent to live in a commercial laundry facility where she lacked access to a kitchen, shower or bath.

“The victims were further told their smuggling fee was a debt owed to the business,” Stitzel said. “Upon their rescue, one teenage victim told investigators that for a two-year period — from the time that they were 14 until they were 16 years old — they were forced to work 11-hour overnight shifts, before attending high school classes.”

Jeronimo-Sis received a 20-month prison sentence on July 31, Evans received a 30-month prison sentence on Aug. 3, Vaughan received a 51-month prison sentence on Aug. 8, and Landaverde received a 57-month prison sentence on Aug. 8. The perpetrators were also ordered to pay restitution to victims and forfeit $4.1 million. The U.S. attorney’s office prosecuted this case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Newport News.

“These sentencings send a clear message that we will not let this kind of exploitation take place in our communities,” Aber said. “Going forward, I expect to see continued great work out of this task force and others like it around the country.”

This was an HSI Norfolk-led investigation in cooperation with the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force. Federal, state and local law enforcement partners significantly contributed to the investigation — most notably, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General, the Social Security Office of the Inspector General, the Williamsburg Police Department, the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police, the James City County Police Department, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Department of Homeland Security Center for Countering Human Trafficking also supported the investigation.

“I want to highlight the vital role played by our victim service partners throughout this investigation,” said Stitzel. “They provided stabilization, housing, and medical and mental health assistance to these most vulnerable of victims. Without their partnership, this prosecution would not have been possible, and these traffickers would remain operating in our community.”

Transitions Family Violence Services, the Samaritan House, and The Lampstand assisted the victims identified by this investigation.

Since its inception, the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force has identified more than 300 victims, conducted more than 300 investigations and arrested more than 150 subjects.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

Story from www.ice.gov

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity.

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