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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Uzbek man pleads guilty to multiple crimes surrounding a racketeering enterprise that engaged in forced labor

WASHINGTON - A man from Uzbekistan who resided in Mission, Kan., pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges regarding his role as the leader of a criminal enterprise that engaged in forced labor, and other related crimes.

This case was investigated by the following agencies: the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the FBI; the Department of Labor; the Internal Revenue Service; the Kansas Department of Revenue; and the Independence, Mo., Police Department.

This conviction was prosecuted under the statute prohibiting fraud in foreign-labor contracting enacted as part of the Trafficking Victim's Reauthorization Act of 2008.

According to court documents, Abrorkhodja Askarkhodjaev, 31, pleaded guilty Oct. 20 to the following charges: racketeering conspiracy, fraud in foreign labor contracting, evasion of corporate employment tax, and identity theft. As leader of this criminal enterprise, Askarkhodjaev arranged to recruit and exploit foreign national workers. Many of these workers were recruited with false promises related to the terms, conditions and nature of their employment. Once the workers entered the United States, they were coerced to continue working through threats of deportation and other adverse immigration consequences.

"This guilty plea underscores the commitment of ICE Homeland Security Investigations to investigate and dismantle human trafficking organizations," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Chicago. "This illegal and immoral enterprise exploited foreign workers and subjected them to intolerable living conditions. However, it also defrauded legitimate guest worker visa programs so the ringleaders could maximize their criminal profits."

"The defendant exploited foreign workers and subjected them to servitude through intimidation and fear. The coercion these victims endured rendered them victims of a form of modern-day slavery that is an intolerable deprivation of individual rights," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute cases of human trafficking."

"This investigation led to the guilty plea of an individual who, with other defendants, abused the Department of Labor's foreign labor certification program to fraudulently obtain visas for foreign workers who were victims of human trafficking and other violations. It highlights the OIG's commitment in protecting the integrity of this program and the OIG will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate this type of crime." stated Daniel R. Petrole, Acting Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor.

"The leader of a global criminal enterprise sought to profit from the oppression of vulnerable foreign workers," said Beth Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. "Confronted with the overwhelming evidence we were prepared to present to the jury, on the day of his trial the defendant admitted his guilt and now will be held accountable for his actions."

Multiple co-defendants have previously pleaded guilty in connection with the case. Co-defendant Kristen Dougherty is set for trial beginning Oct. 25.