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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Enslaved and Shot At,|Migrant Workers Say

RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) - Migrant workers say farm labor contractors enslaved them after luring them to North Carolina, held them under threat of death, and shot at workers who tried to escape.

Rumualdo Lainez and Marvin Maldonado claim Francisco Baltazar Sr. and Francisco Baltazar Jr. enticed them to travel from Florida to Johnston County, N.C., to work for co-defendants Across the Lake Farming Co. and its owners, Douglas and Ann Tart.

Lainez and Maldonado say the Baltazars promised them work harvesting tobacco, adequate housing and free transportation to the job.

But upon arriving in Dunn, N.C., the men say, they found a substandard labor camp, and were told they had to pay "several hundred dollars" for their transportation from Florida.

"The Baltazars took these actions in order to trap plaintiffs and the other workers on the crew into debt," the complaint states. "Then, the Baltazars forbade plaintiffs and the other workers from leaving the camp while still in debt to them and threatened violence should workers try to leave while owing a debt. The Baltazars shot at some workers as they attempted to flee the camp. The Baltazars monitored plaintiffs and thwarted their attempt to escape the camp. Plaintiffs were eventually rescued when federal and local law enforcement intervened."

The plaintiffs say they saw the Baltazars shoot at workers fleeing the camp. Afterward, they say, "Francisco Baltazar Sr. gathered the crew and told them that his sons had orders to shoot any worker who tried to leave without paying his debt."

A relative of a worker who escaped contacted the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, and federal and county police agents rescued them, the men say: "The federal agents and [Johnston County Sheriff's] Deputy [Gary] Nord found the Baltazars' spent gun casings from the night that the Baltazars shot at the workers fleeing the camp," the men say.

"Plaintiffs were finally able to safely leave the camp in the presence and under the protection of these local and federal law enforcement agents."

Lainez and Maldonado seek unpaid wages and damages for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection act, and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act.

They are represented by Caitlin Ryland with Legal Aid of North Carolina in Raleigh.

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