A man officials say was the ringleader of an operation that provided illegal labor to businesses in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada has pleaded guilty to conspiring to harbor aliens.

Sentencing for Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado, 40, a Mexican national, is scheduled for May 31 in Lincoln. Conspiring to harbor aliens, when done for financial gain, is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.

In August, federal immigration enforcement officers swept into O’Neill, Nebraska, and other small towns around northeast Nebraska and out of state to serve search and arrest warrants related to what authorities alleged was an operation exploiting illegal labor for profit.

Officers detained workers at O’Neill Ventures, a tomato greenhouse complex in O’Neill, at the Elkhorn River Farms potato plant east of O’Neill, and at the Herd Co. feedlot near Bartlett, Nebraska. They also served search warrants at 13 locations, including La Herradura restaurants in O’Neill and Stromsburg and the El Mercadito grocery in O’Neill.

One official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement equated the operation to “slave labor,” saying many workers had to pay fees to get jobs.

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As part of his plea agreement with the government, Sanchez-Delgado agreed to forfeit four residences in Las Vegas with more than $1 million in equity. He will further forfeit bank accounts and cash totaling more than $178,000, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. The real estate and cash were proceeds of the harboring conspiracy, officials said.

Sanchez-Delgado admitted that between January 2015 and July 2017, he conspired with supervisors at multiple agricultural corporations to supply those companies with alien workers who were not authorized to work or remain in the United States. The corporations contracted with Sanchez-Delgado in an attempt to avoid criminal responsibilities for labor violations, officials said.

Sanchez-Delgado, who is undocumented himself, provided hundreds of illegal workers, officials said.

Sanchez-Delgado was paid by the companies. He also took money from the alien workforce by purporting to withhold state and federal employment taxes and converting the money to his own use, officials said. The undocumented workers also were required to cash their paychecks at one of Sanchez-Delgado’s businesses and pay a check-cashing fee of $50 to $75. Sanchez-Delgado generated more than $5.6 million through this scheme, officials said.

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