Five farm bosses have pleaded guilty to charges of enslaving Mexican and Guatemalan nationals as agricultural workers in southwest Florida, the U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday. The guilty are Cesar Navarrete, Geovanni Navarrete, Villhina Navarrete, Ismael Michael Navarrete and Antonio Zuniga Vargas. According to the DOJ:

All five defendants pleaded guilty to harboring undocumented foreign nationals for private financial gain and identity theft. In addition, Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete pleaded guilty to beating, threatening, restraining and locking workers in trucks to force them to work for them as agricultural laborers. Cesar Navarrete also pleaded guilty to re-entering the U.S. after being convicted of a felony and deported, and Ismael Navarrete also pleaded guilty to document fraud. Cesar and Geovanni Navarrete face up to 35 and 25 years in prison, respectively. The other defendants face a range of 10-25 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for various dates in September and December 2008.

The defendants were accused of paying the workers minimal wages and driving them into debt, while threatening physical harm if the workers left their employment before their debts had been repaid.

"In this case, we are given yet another example of how human trafficking of all kinds victimizes vulnerable human beings," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department is committed to vigorously prosecuting those who engage in this criminal conduct."

The prosecution of human trafficking offenses is a top priority of the DOJ. In the last seven fiscal years, the department's Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorneys' Offices, has increased by nearly seven-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court as compared to the previous seven fiscal years.

This case was investigated by agents from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and investigators from the Collier County Sheriffs Department. Victim assistance was provided by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.