LINCOLN — A federal prosecutor urged jurors Friday to convict two people of conspiring to harbor and hire illegal immigrants in north-central Nebraska, saying that being “willfully blind” to the workers’ undocumented status was no excuse.
“If you’re surrounded by the obvious, you should know the obvious,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods said.
On Friday, jurors began deliberating over criminal charges filed after an August 2018 immigration raid in the O’Neill area that led to the detention of 130 workers and company managers.
The raid focused on a staffing service run by Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado and his family that provided dozens of undocumented workers for a local tomato greenhouse, a potato processing plant, hog confinements and cattle feed yards.
The service, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, exploited the workers by paying them substandard wages and forcing them to work excessive overtime, and failed to pay required state and federal taxes.
A jury of 10 men and two women began deliberating after two weeks of testimony and went home about 6 p.m. The jurors will resume deliberations Monday.
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Only three people contested their charges in the case. One of the defendants, Atkinson businessman John Good, was dismissed from the case by U.S. District Judge John Gerrard; one charge against Good was dropped, and a mistrial was declared on two other charges.
Attorneys for the remaining two defendants, John Glidden, the manager of hog confinements in Ainsworth and Long Pine, and Mayra Jimenez, a secretary at the massive tomato greenhouse in O’Neill, argued Friday that their clients were unaware that the workers being sent by Sanchez-Delgado were illegal.
Carlos Monzon, Glidden’s attorney, said his client was a “scapegoat” who had been “fooled,” along with everyone else in the O’Neill area, by Sanchez-Delgado. Those deceived, Monzon said, included the local mayor, who was a state trooper; the local prosecutor, who drafted the article of incorporation of Sanchez-Delgado’s staffing agency; and the local chamber of commerce, which celebrated him as a legitimate businessman.
“He fooled everyone,” Monzon said of Sanchez-Delgado, who pocketed $5.4 million through the scheme.
Monzon said his client was hired by the hog confinements after they had signed contracts with Sanchez-Delgado to provide workers. Jimenez’ attorney, Candice Wooster, said her client was only an interpreter when a tomato plant manager asked Sanchez-Delgado to set up a staffing service to provide workers.
Woods, the prosecutor, scoffed at the explanations. She said there was plenty of evidence, through the testimony of some of the workers and managers, as well as wiretapped phone conversations, to show that Jimenez and Glidden were aware that the staffing service was providing illegal workers.
The attorneys for the two defendants attacked the credibility of some of the witnesses. Sanchez-Delgado and his family stood to get reductions in their prison sentences for their testimony, they said. Forty of the workers detained in the raid, including a handful who testified, were able to avoid deportation in exchange for cooperating or testifying in the case.