LINCOLN — Tears of joy mixed with tears of sadness in a federal courtroom Monday after a split verdict in a trial stemming from an immigration raid in the O’Neill, Nebraska, area a year ago.

Mayra Jimenez, a secretary at a tomato greenhouse in O’Neill, wiped tears after a jury found her guilty of harboring illegal immigrants and conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants.

Family members of John Glidden, the manager of two hog confinement complexes, teared up in thanks after Glidden was found not guilty of three charges. He was accused of harboring and conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants, as well as conspiring to employ illegal workers.

The verdicts followed a complicated two-week trial. It was the only one to result from an August 2018 immigration raid in the O’Neill area that led to the detention of 130 workers and company managers. All other defendants pleaded guilty, and 40 of those detained were granted deferrals from deportation after providing information to federal agents.

The raid uncovered a multimillion-dollar scheme led by Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado and his family to provide dozens of undocumented workers for local commercial farming operations. They skimmed off part of the workers’ paychecks and didn’t pay state and federal taxes, using the money to buy an O’Neill restaurant, ranch and home, as well as four residences in Las Vegas.

The foreman of the jury of 10 men and two women said the evidence showed that Jimenez knew that one of the workers provided to the O’Neill Ventures plant was illegal and did nothing.

Meanwhile, the main evidence against Glidden was a wiretapped phone call in which he was told that one of his employees was about to obtain his papers and become “legal.” The foreman, Reed Westerhoff of Lincoln, said the jury “couldn’t take one sentence and hang an entire verdict on it.”

“The hands we raised were very heavy ... on all counts,” Westerhoff said of the jury.

Jimenez now faces up to 10 years in prison. Her sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 12 before U.S. District Judge John Gerrard.

One of the original defendants in the trial, Atkinson businessman John Good, was dismissed from the case by Gerrard. One charge against Good was dropped, and a mistrial was declared on two other charges. Those charges could be refiled.

The trial involved three different conspiracies involving Sanchez-Delgado. In an apparent first for such a case, Immigration and Customs Enforcement used wiretaps to listen in on hundreds of calls made by Sanchez-Delgado to local firms that were seeking workers and to local workers seeking jobs.

Glidden’s attorney, Carlos Monzon of Lincoln, said there was no evidence that Glidden knew the workers being supplied by Sanchez-Delgado were illegal. The hog farms signed a contract for the workers before Glidden was hired to manage the farrowing facilities in Long Pine and Ainsworth.

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“That contractor (Sanchez-Delgado) fooled everybody,” Monzon said.

Jimenez’s attorney, Candice Wooster of Lincoln, declined to comment on the jury’s verdict, which was read Monday afternoon, but said it had not yet been decided if she will appeal. The jury received the case Friday afternoon, then resumed deliberations Monday morning.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment, noting that several of those detained, including Sanchez-Delgado, await sentencing.

The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods, argued during the trial that it should have been obvious to Jimenez and Glidden that they were being provided undocumented workers.

She said Sanchez-Delgado exploited the workers, paying them substandard wages and forcing them to work excessive overtime. In some of the phone calls, he was heard assuring employers that he would urge his workers to work more overtime.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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