Two Micronesian nationals have pleaded guilty to a forced labor scheme in Iowa.
Nesly Mwarecheong and Bertino Weires recruited two young Micronesian men to come to the United States for work in December 2019, promising the men that they could send remittances home to their families.
Mwarecheong and Weires also paid for the men’s plane tickets and passport fees, a cost they later used to justify seizing all but $20 from each man’s weekly paycheck, according to prosecutors.
In February 2020, Mwarecheong and Weires found the men working at a meat processing plant in Ottumwa, Iowa. The two victims worked eight-hour shifts, six days a week and were paid between $800 to $1,000, according to prosecutors.
The pair ensured compliance through several means, including confiscating the victims’ passports and social security cards, imposing debts on them, limiting and monitoring their communication with family, physically and socially isolating them and creating a system of total financial dependence, according to the Justice Department.
In May 2020, one of the men was able to escape confinement, and returned in June 2020 with Ottumwa police; Mwarecheong and Weires still refused to hand over his Social Security card and passport.
The second victim also escaped with the aid of police and was put up in a hotel, only for the defendants to track him down and then take his passport, Social Security card, phone and about $4,500 in cash, according to the Des Moines Register.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said “These defendants used the allure of jobs in the United States to entice the victims, and then exploited them and profited off their hard work.”
Each defendant faces a statutory maximum five-year sentence, as well as a $250,000 fine. As part of their guilty plea, Mwarecheong and Weires also promised to pay nearly $70,000 to their victims as restitution.
Under the plea deal, other charges of forced labor and conspiracy will be dismissed, according to the Justice Department.