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February 26, 2020Lincoln, NE, United StatesLabor Exploitation

Nebraska company, businessman plead guilty to harboring, aiding and abetting

LINCOLN, Neb. — A northeastern Nebraska agricultural company and a local businessman each pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to their roles in a conspiracy to harbor and employ illegal aliens.

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

O’Neill Ventures, Inc., a tomato greenhouse and packing plant in O’Neill, Nebraska, entered a felony guilty plea in federal court to conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens. The plea was entered before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl R. Zwart.

The conspiracy relates to the earlier prosecution of Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado, an illegal alien who acted as ringleader of the harboring scheme. Sanchez-Delgado was sentenced in 2019 to 120 months for his role in the conspiracy.

Local businessman John Charles Good, car salesman and owner of the La Herradura restaurant in O’Neill, also entered a guilty plea Wednesday for aiding and abetting Sanchez-Delgado in his conspiracy to unlawfully employ and harbor illegal aliens. In particular, for his role in employing Sanchez-Delgado’s wife, Magdalena Castro-Benitez, at the restaurant he owned.

Castro-Benitez was previously deported to Mexico and returned illegally to the U.S. before joining her husband’s conspiracy to harbor and employ illegal aliens. Good’s charge carries a possible penalty of up to six months of incarceration, a fine of $3,000 per alien, and a term of supervised release of up to one year that could follow any term of incarceration.

The plea agreement for O’Neill Ventures requires the company to pay a fine of $400,000 at sentencing. In addition, the corporation must allow HSI to conduct reviews and inspections of their labor practices and hiring processes during a probationary term as outlined in the agreement. The maximum fine authorized by law for this offense is $500,000.

The corporation admitted through the plea agreement to being in a conspiracy to employ and harbor undocumented aliens with Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado since at least 2014.

On Aug. 8, 2018, agents and ICE officers executed a search warrant at O’Neill Ventures, Inc., and found that undocumented alien workers comprised approximately 70% of the company’s work force on that date.

At Sanchez-Delgado’s sentencing hearing Nov. 27, 2019, Chief U.S. District Judge John M. Gerrard described Sanchez-Delgado’s financial exploitation of the workers at the tomato plant and other agricultural work sites as one of the “most egregious financial crimes,” that the judge had ever seen and proceeded to sentence Sanchez-Delgado to the maximum imprisonment time authorized by law, 120 months in federal prison. Restitution for those workers will be determined by Chief Judge Gerrard at a future date in time.

Sentencing for O’Neill Ventures, Inc. and Good is set for May 29, 2020 before Chief Judge Gerrard.