JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Three individuals were indicted by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Florida for conspiracy to commit forced labor and visa fraud involving Haitian nationals, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations special agents in Jacksonville and Miami and other state, local and federal agencies.
Carline Ceneus, 32, and Willy Edouard, 47, both of Miami, and Cabioch Bontemps, 34, of Gainesville, Fla., are charged with crimes arising from an alleged scheme to coerce the labor and services of Haitian nationals brought by Ceneus and Edouard to northern Florida to work under the federal agricultural guest worker program. Ceneus is also charged with taking the victims' travel and identity documents. If convicted, Ceneus faces a maximum sentence of 25 years and Edouard and Cabioch each face 10 years in prison.
On July 1, ICE special agents in Miami arrested Ceneus after she arrived from Haiti at Miami International Airport. Bontemps was arrested Tuesday in Gainesville. Edouard is considered a fugitive.
According to the indictment, Ceneus, Bontemps and Edouard engaged in a conspiracy and devised a scheme to obtain the labor of 34 Haitian nationals by enticing them to the Gainesville area to pick beans and peas with false promises of lucrative jobs over three years culminating in permanent residency.
The three defendants then maintained the victims' labor and services through threats of serious harm, according to the indictment. Ceneus and Edouard arranged for the workers to pay substantial recruitment fees, procured by loans provided by loan sharks and often secured by the victims' property. After arrival in the United States, the defendants confiscated the victims' passports and failed to honor the promised terms of employment. The defendants kept the Haitian nationals in their service by threatening to report them to law enforcement and have them deported or sent home to face their large unpaid debts. The indictment also charges that the defendants engaged in visa fraud by making false statements in documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor to procure H2A guest worker visas.
This case is being investigated by ICE, the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General - Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Alachua County, Fla., Sheriff's Department.
The case is being prosecuted by trial attorney Susan French of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit of the Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Williams of the Northern District of Florida.
Numerous non-governmental organizations have provided services to the victims and include: Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center; Alachua County Housing Authority; Gainesville Harvest; Alachua County Health Department; Trinity United Methodist Church; Child Advocacy Center of Gainesville; United Way; St. Francis House; Peaceful Paths; Florida Rural Legal Services in Fort Myers, Fla; Florida Freedom Partnership in Miami; and World Relief in Jacksonville.