Missouri: 12 charged in alleged human trafficking scheme

mardikorKANSAS CITY, Mo. — Twelve people — eight of them from Uzbekistan — are accused in a federal indictment of luring illegal immigrants to the U.S. to work as “modern-day slaves” in 14 states.

Prosecutors announced Wednesday that a federal grand jury in Kansas City issued a 45-count indictment May 6 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act that included charges of labor racketeering, forced labor trafficking and immigration violations.

Matt Whitworth, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said Wednesday in a statement that the defendants used false information to obtain fake work visas for the foreign workers, who were then threatened with deportation while living in substandard apartments and working for inadequate pay.

The indictment says the conspiracy involved fraudulent labor leasing contracts in Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Eight of the 12 defendants were arrested Tuesday, when the indictment was unsealed. They made their first court appearances in the states where they were arrested and are being held in federal custody until they are brought to Kansas City, said Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office.

The scheme ensnared hundreds of illegal immigrants who worked at hotels, construction sites, and in other businesses, many of them in the Kansas City area and in the southwest Missouri resort town of Branson, Whitworth said.

“The indictment alleges that this criminal enterprise lured victims to the United States under the guise of legitimate jobs and a better life, only to treat them as modern-day slaves under the threat of deportation,” said James Gibbons, acting special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement based in Chicago.

Prosecutors allege that Abrorkhodja Askarkhodjaev, 30, a citizen of Uzbekistan living in the Kansas City suburb of Mission, Kan., was the ringleader of the scheme.

Askarkhodjaev purportedly used Kansas City labor leasing company Giant Labor Solutions and other companies he was associated with or controlled to obtain labor leasing contracts from clients in the 14 states. The clients were told that all immigration and labor laws would be followed but the indictment alleges the defendants did not pay employment taxes, overtime or have adequate insurance.

Askarkhodjaev and others also allegedly used false information to get certification and work visas for the workers, who were required to pay fees ranging from $400 to $3,000 for obtaining or extending their visas.

The employees allegedly were required to pay exorbitant rent to live in barely furnished apartments that “ensured that the workers did not make enough to repay their debt, purchase a plane ticket home or pay their own living expenses while in the United States,” according to Whitworth’s statement.

The workers also allegedly had to pay for transportation to their jobs, uniform fees and other fees that, combined with low pay or lack of work, often left them with paychecks that had negative earnings, prosecutors said. They were threatened with physical harm, deportation or other legal problems if they did not comply. The scheme also controlled the workers by not allowing them to receive mail, prosecutors said.

Askarkhodjaev also was charged with one count of marriage fraud after he allegedly married a U.S. citizen to evade immigration laws.

The others indicted were: Nodir Yunusov, 22, Rustamjon Shukurov, 21, Uzbekistan citizens who lived in Mission, Kan.; Ilkham Fazilov, 44, Nodirbek Abdoollayev, 27, Uzbekistan citizens living in Kansas City; Alexandru Frumasache, 23, Viorel Simon, 27, Moldova citizens living in Kansas City, Kan.; Kristin Dougherty, 49, Ellisville, Mo.; Andrew Cole, 53, St. Charles, Mo.; Abdukakhar Azizkhodjaev, 49, a Uzbekistan citizen living in Panama City, Fla.; and Sandjar Agzamov, 27, and Jakhongir Kakhkharov, 29, Uzbekistan citizens who are living abroad.

The Associated Press

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: