Trafficked in AmericaView film
DAFFODIL ALTAN, Correspondent: [voice-over] There are some things we don’t see─ not because they’re not there but because we don’t always understand what is right in front of us.
MARCO DURAN: I never heard of human trafficking before. When I heard it, I thought like, sex slaves. Immediately, I thought─ I never heard of it used in this type of way, where it was threats, were being held against their will, you know, stuff like that. I’ve never heard it like this. No, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of it. And this is the first time I’ve heard of my dad ever doing stuff like that.
I remember when I was working there, I was 14-and-a-half, 14-and-a-half, 15 at the time. So they were kids like me, working like that.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [voice-over] They were working here at Trillium Farms in 2014, where workers described conditions similar to this undercover footage taken at other companies’ plants around the country.
WORKER: [subtitles] Every day, the work was the same. You start sweating, and the chickens crap in your face, and that manure falls in your eyes. Your eyes burn. Your clothes get dirty, completely filthy.
We pick up the chickens that have fallen from the cages. There are lots of dead chickens. They reek, and they’re rotting. That’s how the job is. It’s really hard.
MARCO DURAN: Usually, we showed up to a site about 6:00 o’clock, and we wouldn’t get done until about 5:00. And we didn’t get breaks. They could never sit down, and like, take a half an hour break. It was maybe five minutes, tops. And they go and they drink some water and their energy drinks and then go back to work.
WORKER: [subtitles] When you’re working, it gets to be over 90 degrees. A lot of people almost fainted, going to the door, gasping for air.
There were a lot living there, up to seven, eight people living in one house with two rooms, three rooms. They were basically living on top of each other. Their house was in complete disrepair. The air conditioners didn’t work. The heaters didn’t work, either.
To bathe or wash clothes, they had to use water in buckets. There were cockroaches. It was total neglect.
AMANDA RICKMAN: I bought my trailer. There were holes in the walls. I guess they were using the closets as spaces to sleep.
Over here in the─ over here in the right-hand corner, there’s bed mattresses. There was kids shoes underneath there. There was some clothing. It looked like someone was recently sleeping there. I mean, I don’t know how many people were living here, but to me it looked like they were stuffing a lot of people in just a three-bedroom trailer.
They had no running water. There was no toilet. No toilet. When I came in, there was a five-gallon bucket that had feces and stuff already that was already in there. So it was stinking up the whole trailer. I mean, it was really nasty.
It was, like, maybe they were being kidnapped or being held hostage, or you know, maybe just like it was in the back, old days where they used to take them and use them for slaves or something like that. That’s pretty much what it looked like to me. It didn’t look like it was a really good living environment. It didn’t at all.
SONIA PARRAS, Immigration Attorney: In our own country, we have today a lot of victims of human trafficking that are invisible to our own eyes. And let’s not forget that some of them are kids. And the end of the game is to subject that person to peonage, to slavery. They’re an easy prey. They’re vulnerable and easy to victimize, and they’re alone.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: In our years of reporting on the exploitation of immigrant workers, we’d come across cases of labor trafficking, but nothing quite like this one. Teenagers were being forced to live and work like this in the middle of America. And for months, no one did anything about it.
Our investigation into how and why this happened, and who was responsible, would take us inside a criminal network stretching from Ohio to Central America.
The teens who ended up in Ohio began their journey here, in the western highlands of Guatemala. One of the boys, who was 14 at the time, lived in this village. He worked with his father tending sugar cane for a dollar a day.
ALBERTO, Father: [subtitles] He liked goading the animal and then putting in the cane. He was already doing this job. He helped me a lot. And now I miss him.
ERLINDA: [subtitles] Oh, sad. I wasn’t used to my boy leaving. Now I am used to it, that he is over there. When we have money, we eat breakfast. And when we don’t, we don’t. There are struggles, the struggle to give them food because you just can’t get by here.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: But then one day, in 2014, a neighbor in the village made them an offer.
FRANCISCA CASTILLO, Aroldo’s Mother: [subtitles] Here he is by himself (pointing to photograph)
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Aroldo Castillo lived just down the road. His mother told us he was known for successfully smuggling adults to the U.S. and finding them jobs. Now he was extending his offer to local teenagers.
FRANCISCA CASTILLO: [subtitles] He thought he was helping people, and he was because many of them have been able to better themselves a little.
ALBERTO: [subtitles] At that age, the desire and the intention of leaving to the United States, thinking of the poverty in which we live here.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: The family said Castillo told them he could get their son ─ and other teens ─ to the U.S. for $15,000. He promised them jobs and a chance to go to school. But they didn’t have that kind of money.
ALBERTO: [subtitles] They called us on the phone. They said there was that opportunity, that if we had a deed, he could leave the next day. Our boy had to work over there and pay off the debt of $15.000. When he paid off the debt, we would get back the deed.
“I’m going, Daddy!” “I’m going, Daddy,” he said. He was so eager! And what do I do? It’s not easy to let someone so young from the family go.
They called us at 6:00 o’clock in the evening, and the next day at 4:00 in the morning, they left!
As youngsters, they risk their lives on that journey that I don’t even know! They tell me it is far. What do they call that place where he went? Ohio. Ohio. The chicken house.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Over the course of a year, at least 8 teens from the area took Castillo’s offer, and like so many others from the region, made the uncertain journey north.
We found some of the teens, but they wouldn’t speak to us on camera out of fear for themselves and their families. Some would end up telling their stories in court.
VICTIM TESTIMONY: [subtitles] “Aroldo arranged the trip for me. My journey to the U.S. was much longer and more terrible than I could have imagined. “
DAFFODIL ALTAN: The teens say Castillo had a network of smugglers who moved them through Mexico by bus, on foot and on the infamous train known as “La bestia,” “The beast.”
VICTIM TESTIMONY: [subtitles] “We only ate one time a day.”
VICTIM TESTIMONY: [subtitles] “I felt totally hopeless, like I wanted to die. I eventually was taken across the U.S. border.”
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Once they made it to the U.S., most were detained by the border patrol. At the time, the boys were among tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America who were fleeing violence and poverty and coming to the U.S. in record numbers.
They were turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, whose job it was to place them with a relative or an adult sponsor. But HHS was overwhelmed and began to relax their standards for vetting.
GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press: First the federal government decided to stop fingerprinting most of these sponsors who were coming in to claim children. And then over a period of months later, they decided to stop requiring that sponsors submit original or certified copies of their birth certificates. And then finally, they stopped requiring FBI criminal background checks for many sponsors.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Castillo took advantage of the chaos. He had accomplices in Ohio waiting to pose as sponsors for the boys. So in the summer of 2014, HHS began releasing the teens and they were brought to Ohio, to trailers owned by Castillo.
VICTIM TESTIMONY: [subtitles] “So when I arrived in Ohio, a woman and a man came to the airport and picked me up. Then they brought me to some trailers that were cold.”
VICTIM TESTIMONY: [subtitles] “Eight people were already living in that trailer. I did not want to stay in the tiny, overcrowded trailer.”
VICTIM TESTIMONY: [subtitles] “She told me I had to work tomorrow at this company called Trillium Farms. There were a lot of chickens there. All the minors were working at this farm. “
DAFFODIL ALTAN: It was a farm with a troubled past going back decades and across the country. Before Trillium, it was owned and operated by one of the nation’s biggest and most notorious egg producers, Jack DeCoster.
1996 NEWS CLIP: Just down the road, the chorus comes from thousands of hens packed into cramped little cages. At Jack DeCoster’s egg farm, human beings don’t live much better.
CHRISTINE YOUNG, Fmr. Reporter, WMTW: I remember pitching it to my news director, said, “I want to do a story on DeCoster egg farm.” Nobody had ever been in there. We went over there with the cameras, and it was worse than I have ever could have imagined.
The company owned the trailers and the property that the trailers were on, but DeCoster did no maintenance on them. The people were crammed into these little trailers, like eight guys in one trailer on broken bunk beds. There was raw sewage on the ground. The plumbing, the pipes were broken. It was nasty. It was awful.
ROBERT REICH, U.S. Secretary of Labor, 1993-97: We will not tolerate these abuses of working people in the United States.
The more I learned about Jack DeCoster, the angrier I got. He was very much the most egregious serial violator that I had ever seen. And the conditions on his farms for migrant workers were among the worst sweatshops I had ever come across.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: In 1997, the Department of Labor fined DeCoster $2 million for violations at his facilities in Maine. But it didn’t stop there. For years, authorities continued to fine DeCoster for abuses against his workers.
CHRISTINE YOUNG: They couldn’t escape, really. They couldn’t leave. Once they were there, they were stuck. Today we call it trafficking, but back then, it was just smuggling people in and treating them like slaves.
JACK DeCOSTER: As far as mistreating these workers here, I don’t─ I don’t want to mistreat these workers and I don’t feel I’ve mistreated these workers.
CHRISTINE YOUNG: But how did DeCoster get such a bad name?
JACK DeCOSTER: I wish I─ I’d like to know! [laughs]
JOHN GLESSNER, Fmr. CEO, Ohio Fresh Eggs: I think Jack felt the conditions are better than what they’re used to in Mexico. You know, he was out for best worker at the lowest price, and for him, that was a Hispanic worker.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: John Glessner worked with DeCoster for more than 20 years. He ran some of his operations and was known as his right-hand man.
DeCoster declined to be interviewed, and Glessner has never before spoken publicly about his experiences.
CHRISTINE YOUNG: I remember that John Glessner was the business manager. He would never talk to us. We tried. He was one of those very elusive figures at the DeCoster facility. His loyalty was to Jack DeCoster and to the profit of that operation.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Though they have since fallen out and have sued each other, Glessner played a critical role in building DeCoster’s egg empire, which stretched from Maine into Ohio, and here in Iowa.
[on camera] This was your former territory, right? You were running─ you built all this? You’re running all this?
JOHN GLESSNER: Yeah, with Jack. I mean, you know, obviously it was Jack’s investment and I oversaw, you know, a lot of the construction and that of it. So I mean, I basically lived and died this for eight years, you know, during the construction process when these was being built.
POLICE OFFICER: Can I see your driver’s license, please.
JOHN GLESSNER: Sure. What’s the problem?
POLICE OFFICER: I think the deputy back here wants to talk to you. So if you could come with me, please.
JOHN GLESSNER: Sure.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: We’d attracted the attention of the farm, who’d called the local sheriff on us.
POLICE OFFICER: I had a report of some people hanging around at 250th and 69th. You were seen leaving the scene of the area.
JOHN GLESSNER: Yeah.
POLICE OFFICER: Is that true?
JOHN GLESSNER: Yes.
POLICE OFFICER: OK. Can you tell me what was going on?
JOHN GLESSNER: No, I used to run these facilities for DeCoster.
POLICE OFFICER: Oh you did?
JOHN GLESSNER: Yes, years ago.
POLICE OFFICER: OK. What’s the guy in the back with the videocamera?
JOHN GLESSNER: Oh, they’re just some people that were doing a story on DeCoster now.
POLICE OFFICER: Yeah? Who are they with? Who are they working for?
DAFFODIL ALTAN, Correspondent: [on camera] Why are you talking with us?
JOHN GLESSNER: Why am I talking with you? Our industry, the egg industry, is so tight-lipped. You know, I don’t know of anybody that’s going to come before you and start talking about these issues openly without bringing some repercussions on them or their operations, and that. So it’s easier for me to do it because I’m no longer in the industry. It’s basically to try to help the industry as a whole, so they can improve later on and not run into the same issues that I’ve been involved in the past that have occurred.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [voice-over] Glessner said one of the biggest issues was trying to find people to do the work.
JOHN GLESSNER: You know, it’s pretty physical.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [on camera] Eight-hour, ten-hour days? What are─
JOHN GLESSNER: No, it could be as much as 16, depending on what was going on.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Will Americans do this work?
JOHN GLESSNER: Boy, I don’t think so. I don’t even think─ I don’t even know if wage came into it, whether you could keep them.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [voice-over] To get the work done, they turned to immigrants, even though he suspected some of them had false documents.
JOHN GLESSNER: It’s probably one of these things that you just don’t want to know. Do you suspect that they’re─ that this is going on? Probably. But do you really want to try digging into it?
DAFFODIL ALTAN: In 2001, authorities raided DeCoster’s Iowa plants and detained approximately 90 undocumented workers.
SONIA PARRAS, Immigration Attorney: The plant was raided several times throughout several years, and no one looked into human trafficking. No one looked into exploitation of workers.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Sonia Parras represented some of the workers. They told her they had been recruited from Mexico, gone into debt, and were being threatened when they complained.
SONIA PARRAS: It wasn’t until we started unraveling all these multi layers of victimization that we realized that some of these victims were also victims of human trafficking.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: DeCoster and Glessner were never charged with labor trafficking, but they were both convicted of charges related to the hiring of illegal workers.
[on camera] You pled guilty to harboring aliens. What does that mean?
JOHN GLESSNER: You know what the problem was? You had people that were working under one name, OK? You could say they’re undocumented, using forged cards or whatever, and then the next minute, they got legal somehow. But I guess, basically, they felt I should’ve known that they were illegal and allowed them to work still. So I guess you call that harboring.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: So did─ you pled guilty. Did you know?
JOHN GLESSNER: Mmmm─
NEWSCASTER: The recall has grown to more than 500 million eggs from─
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Then in 2010, a salmonella outbreak sickened an estimated 56,000 people, destroying the company’s reputation.
JOHN GLESSNER: At that point, of course, I’m telling Jack DeCoster that, you know, the operations need to be sold.
CONGRESSMAN: [congressional hearing] Where you are right now is you feel cleaned up and adequate?
JACK DeCOSTER: Sir, please let me talk.
JOHN GLESSNER: The guy’s got so much baggage, it got to the point you couldn’t even market the eggs. So I go deal with Jack and say, you know, “You’ve got to sell the facilities. You got to lease them. You got to do something. You got to get out.”
DAFFODIL ALTAN: DeCoster did get out. He stopped running his plants, and instead leased them to other companies. The Ohio operation was leased to Trillium Farms, which kept most of DeCoster’s employees. By 2014, it was one of the five largest in the country, producing 10 million a eggs a day. This is where the traffickers forced the Guatemalan teens to work off their debts.
WORKER: [subtitles] It’s not easy making $600 a week, and out of that, they take away $550. That’s not easy.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: This man says he worked with the teens at Trillium.
FORMER TRILLIUM WORKER: [subtitles] When someone didn’t want to give up their money or they didn’t want to pay, or complain, they would call their family. “We’re going to take away your land and you’re going to lose all your money.” Or they would issue death threats. Many of my friends told me that they received death threats─ they would kill their father, their mother─ if they didn’t want to pay or work.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: In October 2014, after four months at Trillium, one of the teens managed to call his uncle in Florida. The uncle agreed to talk to us, but was afraid to show his face on camera.
UNCLE: [subtitles] When my nephew called me, he said the man had told him, “If you don’t pay back your debt, I’m going to shoot your dad two or three times.” So he was scared. He was worried. He would cry to me, pleading for me to fight for him. So I said, “Yes, I will find a way.” So I called the sheriff.
MARISOL SCHLOENDORN, Sheriff’s Office, Collier Cty., FL: One day, I received a phone call. There was a gentleman that had a nephew that had been smuggled into the country from Guatemala and was being kept to work against his will in Ohio. And within 24 hours, I had a conference call from the head of the FBI, HSI and the U.S. attorney’s office in that region.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Two months later, federal and local law enforcement moved in.
NEWSCASTER: A human trafficking bust at an egg farm in Marion─
NARRATOR: In the early morning hours, they raided the trailer park where the teens had been living.
NEWSCASTER: Federal prosecutors call it modern day slavery.
NEWSCASTER: ─their paychecks kept by their traffickers.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: They detained approximately 45 People.
NEWSCASTER: The human trafficking operation was run by a third party contractor hired by Trillium Farms.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: At least 10, they determined, were victims of trafficking, including 8 minors.
NEWSCASTER: And the U.S. attorney’s office says its investigation is ongoing.
Sen. ROB PORTMAN (R), Ohio: I mean, how could that possibly happen? The more we learned about it, the more it became apparent that there was a connection back to our immigration policies and how the Department of Health and Human Services deals with kids who come here unaccompanied.
[Senate hearing] What makes the Marion case even more alarming is that a U.S. government agency was actually responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of the abusers.
How could the federal government take these kids in, try to protect them, and then as they send them out to families, you know, pending a court date, give them right back to the people who had brought them up here?
Here’s one of those homes. This is a trailer─
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Senator Rob Portman was chairman of the committee that investigated the failures at the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that released the boys to the traffickers in Ohio.
Sen. ROB PORTMAN: The more we learned, the more troubling it was from a federal perspective because no one seemed to want to take responsibility for it.
Sen. CLAIRE McCASKILL (D), Missouri: What everybody is doing is doing this [wiping hands]─ “Out the door, we’re done.”
Sen. ROB PORTMAN: We’ve got these kids. They’re here. They’re living on our soil. And for us to just, you know, assume someone else is going to take care of them and throw them to the wolves, which is what HHS was doing, is flat-out wrong. I don’t care what you think about immigration policy, it’s wrong.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: The HHS division responsible for placing the teens declined to be interviewed. They told the committee they had strengthened their procedures to protect children. But the committee had found over a dozen other cases of trafficking related to the surge and said it’s impossible to know just how many more victims there are.
GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press: It was not just the Ohio egg farm case, there were other cases in which multiple children were placed with sponsors in homes where they were subject to human trafficking, sexual abuse and other severe forms of abuse and exploitation. More than 180,000 unaccompanied minors had been placed in communities across the country, but because there’s so little follow-up with them once they’re out of the government’s care, we have no idea what’s happened to them.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: During our investigation, we found that some of the unaccompanied minors ended up in small towns across the Midwest, like here in Clarion, Iowa.
BERTA ALBERTS, High School Educator, Clarion, IA: So we were getting, like, kids, like, every week. They were coming from all over the place. And most of them, just random people bring them. And they can say, “They’re my cousin, they’re my uncle, they’re my aunt.” And then they say, “Well, he’s not my real uncle, they just tell me to say that.”
They come to school, but they don’t─ they can’t function because they’re so tired. And you ask them, “Why are you so tired?” And they don’t respond. And then you keep pushing and pushing. “OK, I was working. I’m working. I have to work. You don’t understand I have to work.” They always say they’re in debt that they hold. That’s why they’re working.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Berta Alberts works with immigrant teens and says many of her students have told her the only way they pay off their debt is by working long shifts at nearby food processing plants. We spoke with some teen workers, but they were afraid to go on camera. Finally, one agreed if we concealed his identity.
EDGAR: The first day that i arrived, I didn’t want to return because it was so horrible. It was very cold, and the carts that we would take out of the cooler were heavy. The machines are very sharp, and if you’re not paying attention, you put your hand in and it will cut everything.
We were working and working. We knew that we were going to leave at 10:00 PM. That’s the time we leave, but [the supervisors] arrived and said, “No, you can’t leave at 10:00 because we have a lot of work and we have to get the order out.” They told me I couldn’t leave until midnight.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [on camera] When you say they told you that you couldn’t leave─ like, how? Would they close the doors or what?
EDGAR: Yes, because it’s the contractors can make you do whatever they want.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: And the contractors knew that you all were minors?
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Sometimes, when you would see other kids, would you talk to them? Did you know how they felt?
EDGAR: Yes, but since they have debt like I did, they can’t quit because they have to pay that debt. That’s why they continue to work there. Even though they want to quit, the debt pushes them to work.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [voice-over] To date, we found no one in law enforcement that has investigated or intervened here. And people we spoke to said they’d heard of at least 30 teens working in plants in this area of Iowa, paying off debts, working long hours, unable to leave their jobs, just like the teens in Ohio.
In the months after the raid at the trailer park, six people were arrested, among them Aroldo Castillo, the Guatemalan trafficker. He pled guilty to forced labor and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
STEVEN DETTLEBACH, Fmr. U.S. Atty., Northern District of OH: The people charged in this case, they work as a team. So there’s leaders. Then there’s what you would call sort of task masters, the people who actually oversee the slave labor. And then there’s individuals who recruit and transport them. And they all have different roles. Some are more culpable than others.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: After the initial arrests, prosecutors continued looking for bigger targets.
STEVEN DETTLEBACH: The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, they’re continuing to investigate the case. And we will follow the facts wherever they go.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: We also wanted to know who else was responsible. Our reporting led us to focus on a key player in the Ohio operation, a man who worked with DeCoster and then Trillium. His name is Pablo Duran, Sr., and his company had a multi-million-dollar contract with Trillium to supply workers.
JOHN GLESSNER: I can see how some of these employers are put in the standpoint, you got no labor or whatever, and Pablo Duran shows up and says, “Hey, I can fix your problem.” And it’s probably a situation where they’re sitting there, saying, you know, “I’m not going to look too deep into anything.” I wasn’t out and questioning people and saying, “Hey, are you documented, you know, non-doc”─ you know, I mean, why go to that standpoint and destroy your own business?
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Pablo Duran, Sr., left town after the raid, leaving his family behind. His son, Pablo, Jr., pled guilty to running a crew that included some of the teens, but he wouldn’t speak to us.
We found his younger son, Marco. He told us about the day his brother was arrested.
MARCO DURAN: I didn’t hear about anything until the week of the 4th of July. I called my brother. And I’m, like, “What’s up, man?” He’s, like, “Well, I’m getting processed.” I’m, like, “What the hell do you mean you’re getting processed?” He’s, like, “I’m getting put in jail.” And I’m, like, “What did you do?” He said, like, “Dude, I don’t even know.” I’m, like, “What do you mean?” He’s, like, “They said they had a warrant.” And he’s, like, “I’m turning myself in.”
And I was just─ I was so─ I was shocked. And then I came home and my mom, in tears, showed me the article saying “human trafficking.” And I was thinking and I’m, like, “When did this happen?” Like, I thought for a second my brother was living, like, a double life. And on one side, he was the good family man we thought, and then the next, he was doing very bad things, you know? And then come to find out he was doing his job, you know?
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Pablo Duran, Jr., ended up spending 14 months in prison, but Marco says his brother was just following orders from their father.
MARCO DURAN: My dad was the main boss, so my dad pretty much owned all crews, but that was the crew that my dad gave to my brother.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Marco says he also worked with his father at Trillium when he was in high school, and when the Guatemalan teens were there.
MARCO DURAN: I remember when I was working there, my dad stopped by because he was one of the, you know, lead guys. And he stopped by and he pulled me aside. He’s, like, “You need to look around.” He’s, like, “These young people, you know, younger than you, these people come from poor countries and they’re working harder than most people that were born here with the citizenship and, you know, all those rights.”
My dad told me their ages and how they ranged from 13 to about 18. So they were high schoolers in the U.S., you know, high schoolers, barely middle schoolers, kids like me, working like that.
You don’t see my dad going to jail or going to prison or being taken away from his family. My dad was smart about everything and was able to make it that he wouldn’t get taken away. He’s in Mexico right now.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: In fact, we found out there was a warrant for his arrest and an order to extradite him. And we found court records that alleged he had been in regular contact with Aroldo Castillo about smuggling in minors to work at Trillium.
We kept looking for Duran and people that knew him. One of his crew leaders agreed to talk from prison.
BARTOLO DOMINGUEZ: [subtitles] I’m paying for the ones who weren’t arrested that day.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Bartolo Dominguez says he knew some of the teens, but didn’t know they were being abused or having their wages taken.
BARTOLO DOMINGUEZ: [subtitles] I never noticed anything like that. Had I noticed, maybe I would have done something. But they never told me anything, nor did I know anything about it. The Durans knew everything about the minors because they are the ones who organized them by groups.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Dominguez says that Duran ran his company with his brother, Ezequiel.
BARTOLO DOMINGUEZ: [subtitles] Pablo and Ezequiel were partners, and everything that was left over of all the work that was done, they would split it in half, which was a good amount of money.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Ezequiel Duran was never charged in the case. We went looking for him and were surprised to find him living with his family in a quiet Ohio suburb. I gave them my number and left. It felt like a dead end.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Hi. I was wondering if Ezequiel is here?
MAN: No, he’s not.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: He’s not.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Can you just let him know that─
I gave them my number and left. It felt like a dead end. But a few minutes later, as I was driving away, the phone rang. It was Ezequiel.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [on the phone] I wanted to see if we could meet so we could talk for a bit.
EZEQUIEL DURAN: I’m not interested in this, in none of this. This company has a lot of problems. Look through the records, and you’ll be spooked. It’s not something I’m going to tell you. Look through the records. You’ll see.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: But with your brother, Pablo, you’re implicated, so that’s why─
EZEQUIEL DURAN: I’m not interested in saying anything, good or bad, because I don’t want problems. Understand? I don’t know what could happen.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: A month after this call, Ezequiel Duran was found dead in his home with a gunshot wound to the head. His death was ruled a suicide.
After months of looking for him while he was wanted by the FBI, we tracked down Pablo Duran. He agreed to meet us in Mexico City.
[on camera] Is Pablo someone you would ever consider dangerous?
JOHN GLESSNER: I wouldn’t. I think he’s like a rat in a corner, though. I think he’d do anything to get out of that corner if you trapped him in it.
He’s so stubborn. He believes exactly what he’s doing. And he’s going to come across like he didn’t do anything wrong, if you could get it out of him and stuff. And “It wasn’t me.” I mean, he’ll have the biggest story, like, you can─ and he’ll─ if you didn’t know better, you’d almost believe him.
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] I made the decision to speak with you all because what they’re saying about me, it seems unjust because it’s not true and I’m not guilty of anything that they’re accusing me of. That’s what you should know.
I hired the contractors. I didn’t directly hire the employees. So I wasn’t asking where they lived and what they did or what they were allowed to do.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: One of your own sub-contractors was your own son, Pablo Duran, Jr. And your son, he did have minors on his crew, right? That’s what he pled guilty to.
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] I don’t know. I don’t know that.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: You never talked to him about it or─
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] No.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: The federal judge in the case said that your son, Pablo, Jr., took the fall for you, for what you knew.
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] No. No, I don’t think he took it for me because I’m responsible for what I did and he is responsible for his actions because if he did do wrong, I’m not going to pay. He’s going to pay. He doesn’t have to take the fall for me or me for him. Just because a brother kills someone, we’re not all going to be killers. Or everyone is going to take the fall, blame one brother, blame all. No.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Well, I think because there were so many minors working on different crews that how could you miss them?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] It’s because─ no, not me. Why me? They don’t work with me. Why me?
DAFFODIL ALTAN: As a─ as somebody in charge─
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] It’s because I wasn’t working with them. They weren’t working with me. I wasn’t there physically with them. I would go for 10, 15 minutes when I would go, but I wasn’t with them. I would go to do what I had to do. I wasn’t with them.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: So you─ you never had any interaction with knowledge of any minors that were there?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: No.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: OK. So are all these people─ are they lying?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] Yes. Of course they’re lying.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Did you know a man named Aroldo Castillo?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: No.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: So you never had any conversations? You never met Aroldo?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: No. [subtitles] I’ve never met him.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: I’m going to read you what the government says about your relationship. They say Castillo Serrano talked regularly on the phone with Pablo Duran, Sr. Those discussions included the fact that minors were having an easier time getting across the border and that they should therefore focus their activities on teenagers. What do you say to that?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] He never spoke with me, never spoke. I don’t even know him. You can run me through a lie detector to see if I know him. It’s going to tell you “no” because I don’t know the man.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: You say that you did not have any relationship. You don’t even know who he is.
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: No. No.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: And you never spoke on the phone with him?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] Oh, years ago, sorry, when I first arrived there and I was returning to Iowa and he called me one day. And if I were on the phone with him for 10 seconds, that would have been a lot. He told me that he had a person to work, yes, and I told him that I didn’t hire people for work. And I hung up the phone. That was around 2012.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: So you do have a memory then of speaking with him at one point on the phone?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] Yes, for about 10 seconds. That’s all.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Did Trillium know that there were minors working there, do you think?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] I don’t know. Maybe.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: How does it work? Do the─ do the Trillium managers check the plants, or would they be able to see? Tell me a little bit.
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] They have a supervisor at each plant and an assistant that sees them daily. They tell them what to do and what not to do.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: So the relationship is a Trillium supervisor and a subcontractor would be seeing each other every day.
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: Yes.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: And they would be seeing the workers?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: Yes.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: So in your opinion, would Trillium have been able to see that there were minors working there?
PABLO DURAN, Sr.: [subtitles] Well, I can’t give my opinion about that really, but well, that’s obvious.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [voice-over] Trillium ended its contract with Pablo Duran shortly after the raid and has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
For more than a year, they refused our interview requests. But finally, the company’s vice president agreed.
[on camera] When you heard the words “human trafficking,” had you encountered this in the business before?
J.T. DEAN, Exec. V.P., Trillium Farms: No, I had not. I was stunned. I─ my first reaction was I couldn’t believe that anything like this would be happening on our farms or in our environment. I─ looking back on it, I was naive. I did not understand what I understand today of how prevalent it is around the country.
And I am responsible for the day-today operations, and it happened here on my watch. And so I do have a duty to do everything we can do to ensure this doesn’t happen again and to spread the word so that others are aware of this. This occurred. It did occur under my watch, but we did not know this and we did not see it.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: How do you not see teenagers the ages of your own kids? How do you miss that?
J.T. DEAN: We don’t supervise those contract service providers. So our managers, our supervisors, they’re checking that the work is complete. They’re checking that the work gets done adequately, but they’re not actually telling this person to go here or that person to go do this. So we’re not directly supervising the people doing that work.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [voice-over] But there was someone inside who might have known what was going on, Ezequiel Duran. Although he was fired in 2014, for several years, he was actually a Trillium manager at the same time that the company he ran with his brother was bringing in workers.
[on camera] Were you aware that he was both an employee and a contractor?
J.T. DEAN: I don’t believe I knew that, no.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Because if he was, then as a manager who was also running the contracting companies, he’s somebody who would have known potentially that there were kids being brought in.
J.T. DEAN: I don’t know. My understanding─ I believe that─ I don’t remember the date that Ezequiel left employment with the company. As we came to understand that people weren’t comporting with our values and what our expectations were, we made changes. We asked them to leave the company and we made improvements, changes.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: I mean, that’d be something, to have an employee who’s also the contractor. Seems like a joint employment issue. So you know, that’s one thing that’s been confounding to us is that Ezequiel was both a manager who was overseeing plants and also was running this contracting company, Haba, run by─ with his brother.
J.T. DEAN: We were obviously lied to. We were obviously misled at numerous points in this process. And as I said, we’ve done a lot of learning as this process has commenced. Was everything correct? No. We’re learning. Are we making changes? Are we making improvements? Yes. Did we act swiftly when law enforcement alerted us to this problem? Yes. Have we complied and cooperated with the investigation? Yes.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Should Trillium have been held responsible in any way for what happened on their property?
J.T. DEAN: I’m confident that if the federal officials would have believed that and would have found wrongdoing on our part, we would have been held accountable in that way, criminally.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: [voice-over] Trillium has partnered with a leading anti-trafficking organization to implement reforms and train their employees. The company would not allow us to film inside their plants, but they sent us this video to show what working there is like.
They say they’re trying to reduce using contractors to find workers, but haven’t eliminated them completely. And they’re currently hiring.
Back in Guatemala, the teens’ families would eventually get their deeds back as a result of Aroldo Castillo’s sentencing. His mother had been holding onto them.
FRANCISCA CASTILLO, Aroldo’s Mother: [subtitles] He called me, as well, and said, “Mom, return the deeds to the people. Return, return, because if you don’t, I will get a long sentence and I don’t want to be locked up here for long.” That’s what he told us. So then we returned the deeds.
AROLDO’S WIFE: [subtitles] These are the names of the people who have had their deeds returned.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: These were mostly neighbors and relatives. We asked if any of them still owe money.
FRANCISCA CASTILLO: [subtitles] Oh, yeah, they still owe us money, especially the ones that had just left. Of course they still owe. But then everything came to an end. Now we just want my son to get out so we can get on with our lives, working again like before.
ALBERTO: [subtitles] The woman─ the mother of the guy who’s in prison, his mother is the one who returned our deed to us. We felt very happy about that, to have recovered our deed.
This is parcel of the land.
DAFFODIL ALTAN: Alberto still tends the fields he worked with his oldest son, but he hasn’t seen him in almost four years. Alberto’s son and some of the other teens from Guatemala were given special visas for victims of trafficking. Some are in school, others are working. But even today, the ones we’ve found are still too afraid to go on camera.
Two months after we’d interviewed him in Mexico, Pablo Duran attempted to return to the U.S. He was arrested at the border and is now in Ohio facing labor trafficking charges. The U.S. attorney says the investigation is ongoing.
SONIA PARRAS, Immigration Attorney: Until our laws and our systems and our society held responsible everyone that profits from human trafficking, we’re not ending human trafficking. And we don’t know how many other cases are out there and the crime continues.
[On April 26, the Senate committee that investigated the Ohio case is scheduled to hold another hearing. They are concerned HHS is still not doing enough to protect unaccompanied minors from abuses like labor trafficking.]