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12 Feb 2023

David J. Neal, The Miami Herald (USA)

Call it ‘slavery.’ Call it ‘forced labor.’ A Florida man did it to people who pick melons

See all tags Allegations

If you bought melons sold at Kroger, Schnucks, Walmart, its big box club offspring, Sam’s Club or other chains, they might’ve been harvested or packed by H-2A visa workers provided by Los Villatoros Harvesting, a Bartow company run by Bladimir Moreno. If they were, that fruit reached your table via victims of federal RICO and slavery law violations.

Moreno, 56, violated federal RICO and slavery laws in getting those workers from Mexico to the United States, then abusing them once they were here...

Labor said LVH workers harvested watermelons for Wachula’s Carlton Farms, Penny Carlton, James Carlton and Scott Carlton’s company. Sun Fresh Farms, whose officers are Penny and James Carlton, handles the retail side of the business. Those watermelons, Labor said, were sold by Walmart and Kroger. In an email to the Miami Herald, James Carlton said Carlton Farms received no notice of any legal violations involving workers from LVH...

The melons packed in the Hoosier State by LVH workers for Oaktown, Indiana’s Cardinal Farms and Vincennes’ Wonning Melons were sold by a distributor to chains that included Kroger, Schnucks and Sam’s Club. Meanwhile, the workers’ housing barely merited the word. Moreno’s guilty plea said he knew about six workers in one hotel/motel room and 75 workers in a warehouse. Labor’s Wage and Hour Division investigators found each worker didn’t have a bed to himself and, in one location, there were 44 workers in 10 rooms...

Also, Moreno himself “repeatedly and consistently” told the workers they would be deported or arrested if they didn’t keep working or tried to escape.” When investigators came around, Moreno tried to intimidate the workers into silence...

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