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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Man Claims Landscaper Enslaved Him

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) - A Mexican man was enslaved and held in peonage and "debt bondage" for years by a landscaping company boss, who had him smuggled into the United States, the worker claims in court.

Humberto Campis Abarca sued L & K Tree and Shrub Inc., and its CEO, Patrick Little in Federal Court. Little's wife, Deborah Little and L & K's co-owner, Michael Kuka, are also defendants.

Campis claims he "endured years of subjugation, isolation, threats and debt bondage at the hands of his trafficker, defendant Patrick Little and his co-defendants."

Campis, who already was in the United States, claims that Patrick Little promised him a work visa, but told him he would need to return to Mexico to get the visa.

Before leaving for Mexico, Campis asked Little for money to support his family, and subsequently, agreed to pay the debt.

In December 2001, Campis went to the U.S. Consulate in Mexico for a visa interview coordinated by Patrick Little, according to the complaint.

Campis claims that before the interview, Little instructed him to answer "no" to the officer's questions in order to get the visa.

Campis says he was denied the visa because of his prior time in the U.S. without status.

Then, Campis claims, Patrick Little told him that had to return to Minnesota to work and pay off his debt and told him to "enter the United States however you can, I will pay for your entry."

Little eventually hired a "coyote" to bring Campis to Minnesota, the complaint states.

After being smuggled into the country, Campis says, Little told him he owed $2,000 plus the cost of the coyote.

"When plaintiff asked him about the total amount of the debt, defendant Patrick Little always got mad," the complaint states. "He said that plaintiff only needed to work and not ask questions. He shouted at plaintiff, saying bad things about his mother. He threatened to hit plaintiff in the face, to the best of plaintiff's understanding."

Campis adds: "This pattern more or less repeated every year. Defendant Patrick Little sent plaintiff to Mexico in around November or December and paid a coyote to bring him back to the United States in March or April the following year. Defendant Patrick Little always added the amount of the coyote onto plaintiff's debt, and so his debt kept growing. He could never earn enough to pay it off, or even learn exactly how much the debt was. It was a bottomless spiral of debt."

Campis says he was not paid overtime except on one paycheck. He claims Patrick and Deborah Little deducted pay for housing, tools, food, van and phone.

Living conditions were primitive.

"There weren't bathrooms. They either had two porta-potties or went to the bathroom in the trees for up to 25 people," the lawsuit states. "There weren't showers either. The workers, including plaintiff, used hoses to take showers. Sometimes there was running water in the house, sometimes there wasn't. The workers, including plaintiff, slept in one room with up to 25 people and the room was the size of a hallway that way full of bunk beds."

In 2008, Campis says, he was stopped by the police near Little's property, and gave the police Little's address. "And Defendant Patrick Little, when he saw the ticket and the address on the ticket, got very angry," the complaint states. "Defendant Patrick little grabbed plaintiff's arms roughly and said that if he had problems with the police, that defendant Patrick Little was going to kill him and bury him behind the house and nobody would know what happened to plaintiff."

Campis says he is legally in the United States today, with a T visa, which is reserved for victims of human trafficking.

He seeks compensatory and special damages for enticement into slavery, forced labor, involuntary servitude, trafficking into peonage, fraud and fraudulent inducement, negligence, emotional distress, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, labor trafficking and peonage.

He is represented by Angela Bortel.

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