Indictment alleges conspiracy behind recruitment, hiring of undocumented workers in Midwest

An ICE bus pulls out of a tomato plant in O'Neill, Neb., after an immigration raid at the plant Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. Paul Hammel | Omaha World-Herald via AP

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A federal indictment released Thursday spells out in detail an alleged conspiracy to provide illegal immigrant labor to companies in the Midwest, including in Minnesota. Seventeen people were charged in the case that follows a grand jury investigation.

On Wednesday, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out search warrants at several locations in Nebraska, Nevada and Minnesota. The Minnesota locations were the headquarters of Christensen Farms in Sleepy Eye and a Christensen truck washing site in Appleton.

According to the indictment, Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado and Magdalena Castro Benitez established a Nebraska based company that found work for undocumented immigrants. The hiring agency signed contracts primarily with companies in the agricultural industry to supply them with workers. When they placed a new employee, the company helped transport that person to their new job, helped them find housing and helped cash their paychecks, the indictment says.

The conspiracy ring also had help from inside some of the companies they sent workers to. The indictment alleges employees of some Nebraska businesses including Elkhorn River Farms, and O'Neill Ventures concealed the immigration status of the new workers after they hired them.

A bank was also part of the conspiracy. The indictment says an unidentified branch of Sioux Falls, S.D., based Great Western Bank helped cash the immigrant's paychecks. But in that process a bank employee also skimmed money from the checks for the conspiracy ring. The illegal proceeds totaled more thant $5.5 million. Some of the money was used to buy real estate in Las Vegas and Nebraska.

The indictment does not mention the Minnesota hog company. In a statement, Christensen Farms says ICE officials were at the company sites to verify employment records. The statement also says the company was "surprised and disappointed to learn that one of our third-party vendors is not in compliance with immigration policies."

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