$1.4M Seized From Santa Paula Store Involved in Scheme Targeting Mexican Farmworkers: DOJ

Authorities seized about $1.4 million dollars from a Santa Paula convenience store owned by one of three men accused of illegally charging Mexican farmworkers for visas and other expenses, officials announced on Thursday.

A farmworker contracted under the agricultural guest worker program picks cauliflower in 2017 on a farm near Greenfield. (Credit: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A farmworker contracted under the agricultural guest worker program picks cauliflower in 2017 on a farm near Greenfield. (Credit: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A federal grand jury indictment alleged that Jorge Vasquez, 58, of Fontana; Melquiades Jacinto Lara, 62, of Santa Paula; and Ricardo Mendoza Oseguera, 39, also of Santa Paula, ran a fraudulent scheme targeting immigrant workers. The three were arrested on Thursday.

Vasquez, Jacinto and Mendoza were accused of charging Mexican nationals thousands of dollars to participate in the H-2A work visa program, which lets employers hire short-term agricultural workers from abroad when they can’t find suitable employees in the U.S.

Labor contractors who provide farms with workers are typically responsible for recruiting, transporting and housing them, according to the Department of Justice.

Vasquez, who owned a recruiting company in Rancho Cucamonga, allegedly went to Mexico to enlist farmworkers and charged them as much as $3,000 for H-2A visas. He also lied to them about how long the visas would be valid and did not disclose that they would have to pay for housing, food and transportation, the indictment said.

The Fontana man also offered an H-2A visa in exchange for $3,500 to $4,000 to an undercover agent with the Labor Department, according to the indictment.

Vasquez and Jacinto, who owned a company that contracted workers to Ventura County farms, allegedly made false statements in applications for 75 workers.

The pair submitted petitions for more than 350 farmworkers since 2012, according to  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services records. The indictment charged them with conspiracy, three counts of mail fraud, one count of visa fraud and one count of fraud in foreign labor contracting.

Mendoza  owned Discoteca Mi Pueblito, a Santa Paula convenience store that redeemed vouchers from workers hired by Jacinto’s company after deducting fees from their pay, according to the Justice Department. Officers seized about $1, 404,187 from that store,  the indictment said.

Mendoza and Jacinto were charged with one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

The three were expected to be arraigned on Thursday.

The mail fraud charges have a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the visa fraud count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, according to the Justice Department. The conspiracy, fraud in foreign labor contracting and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business charges each carries a maximum sentence of five years.