WASHINGTON (CN) - The last person indicted on charges of luring children from South America to work on egg farms in Ohio pleaded guilty Monday to labor trafficking conspiracy, the government said.
Ana Angelica Pedro Juan, 22, was part of a human trafficking ring that convinced South American children, some as young as 14, to come to the United States, promising good jobs and education before forcing them to work on egg farms in Marion, Ohio, for as many as 12 hours a day, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Pedro Juan faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The two other people she worked with pleaded guilty in August to their participation in the trafficking scheme as well as to other immigration offenses.
Pedro Juan's sentencing has not yet been scheduled, while her co-conspirators will be sentenced on April 11, according to prosecutors.
The human trafficking ring sparked a U.S. Senate investigation that revealed systemic flaws within the Department of Health and Human Services that allowed children who arrived at the border unaccompanied to fall into the hands of human traffickers.
The investigation report found "serious deficiencies" in the department's background check policy, which focused only on the guardians with whom it placed children who arrived at the border alone, rather than on every person living in the child's future home. In addition, it revealed that sponsors could simply refuse the department's attempts to contact the children after it sent them to their sponsors.
In the Marion case, investigators found some traffickers who sponsored children held the deeds on the homes of some of their families, leaving the families indebted to them until the children started working on the farms.
The investigation also found the Department of Health and Human Services did not do enough to verify a sponsor's alleged relationship with an unaccompanied minor, often just taking the sponsor at his or her word.
Taking advantage of this lax verification, Pedro Juan would tell government officials she was a family friend of an unaccompanied child in order to have them released into her custody, according to the Justice Department.
Despite promising under oath to get the children to school and to protect them from abuse, Pedro Juan would arrange to have the children released to other associates in exchange for cash, prosecutors say.
The 22-year-old Guatemalan also allegedly oversaw the small, white trailer that housed the children, who were reportedly forced to clean chicken coops, load and unload crates of chickens, and de-beak and vaccinate chickens on Trillium Farms for as many as 12 hours a day.
"These defendants preyed on vulnerable children by falsely promising them good jobs and quality schools only to abuse and exploit them for profit," Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. "As shown today, the Department of Justice will continue to use the full resources of the federal government to aggressively prosecute the heinous crime of human trafficking."
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