3 guilty in migrant worker exploitation at Minnesota farm

- Three people have now been found guilty of exploiting seasonal workers on a Foley, Minnesota farm. Sandra Lee Bart, 68, was convicted by a jury on Monday for conspiring to commit fraud. Co-defendant  Wilian Cabrera pleaded guilty on July 14 and farm owner John Svihel pleaded guilty on June 16 to conspiracy to commit fraud in foreign labor contracting.

The convictions and plea deals follow an extensive investigation by U.S. Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, and HSI's Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force.

“Today’s verdict should serve as a warning to those who seek to exploit foreign workers through the U.S. guest worker visa programs,” said Assistant United States Attorney Manda Sertich. “We commend the investigating agencies for their collaboration and thank the jury for its service.”

Svihel required his Dominican Republic workers to pay a cash kickback for each hour worked, amounting to about $2,209 per worker. He also required a kickback for airfare. The kickbacks totaled $198,697, and occurred from 2011 to 2013, according to the plea agreement.

As part of the plea deal, Svihel established a large escrow account for restitution, agreed to a monitor system for future use of H2-A workers, and is cooperating with the investigation of two co-defendants. In exchange for the plea, federal prosecutors dropped all but one charge.

Investigators believe Cabrera and Bart recruited the workers from the Dominican Republic and also took kickbacks, but had a deeper and larger role than Svihel.

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