Thursday, December 1

Labor traffickers bribed Georgia government workers, agent testifies

  • Bribery allegedly was linked to approvals of farmworker housing, a key step in importing seasonal workers
  • Two weeks after USA TODAY wrote about links between the case and a state labor official, the official filed for retirement
  • The federal indictment in the case named 28 people, accusing them of abusing seasonal workers

Editors note: This story is part of ongoing coverage of Operation Blooming Onion.

A federal agent has testified that Georgia labor officials were bribed by an alleged criminal organization accused of subjecting farmworkers to forced labor and degrading living conditions, including housing dozens in a single-room trailer without safe drinking or cooking water.

In sworn testimony, the Homeland Security Investigations special agent said the bribery was related to farmworker housing inspections. Passing the inspections can be a key requirement of federal approval to bring seasonal farmworkers to the U.S. on temporary visas.

The special agent provided the previously unreported testimony during a sentencing hearing linked to Operation Blooming Onion, one of the largest federal cases ever prosecuted in the U.S. involving labor trafficking of guest farmworkers. So far, the investigation has led to criminal prosecutions against 28 defendants charged with forced labor conspiracy or other crimes.

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