COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA — United States Attorney Corey F. Ellis announced today that a federal grand jury in Columbia returned a multi-count indictment in connection with trafficking in seasonal agricultural workers.
Elizabeth Balcazar, 19, Enrique Balcazar, 35 – both of Batesburg – and Balcazar Nature Harvesting, LLC have been charged with conspiracy to commit labor trafficking and fraud in foreign labor contracting. Elizabeth Balcazar and Enrique Balcazar have also been charged with the confiscation of passports and immigration documents in connection with labor trafficking. Enrique Balcazar has also been charged with two counts of labor trafficking.
“Our nation’s visa system is an asset that provides much-needed resources to our communities and valuable opportunities to those foreign workers seeking a new life here in the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Ellis. “Although the indictment speaks for itself, those who exploit the system and abuse these vulnerable workers will find no refuge here in South Carolina. Our office will utilize all available resources to bring such offenders to justice while rescuing and restoring victims in the process. Sadly, we know that many labor trafficking victims, both foreign and domestic, suffer here in the United States and that such violations frequently go undetected.”
“By targeting employers who exploit their workers, HSI is protecting the American labor market, the conditions of workplaces, and the dignity of the individual employees,” said Special Agent In Charge Ronnie Martinez, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in North Carolina and South Carolina. “We hope that cases like this will encourage other victims and witnesses to come forward to HSI to enable us to stop other employers from engaging in any similar conduct.”
“Labor trafficking and exploitation is real, and it is happening in South Carolina,” said South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) chief Mark Keel. “Agents have and will continue to work in collaboration with our local and federal partners to rescue those being victimized and bring justice to those who profit from the misery of others.”
The indictment alleges that Elizabeth Balcazar and Enrique Balcazar operated Balcazar Nature Harvesting, LLC, which provided seasonal harvesting labor to South Carolina area farms. The indictment further alleges that the defendants forced victims to work excessive hours, failed to pay the victims their due wages, and threatened deportation for those who did not work hard enough or produce enough. The indictment also alleges that the defendants attempted to restrain the victims by confiscating their passports and by carrying, brandishing, and discharging a firearm. The indictment also indicates there are multiple victims.
Elizabeth Balcazar and Enrique Balcazar face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, plus court ordered supervision to follow, and each of the defendants face a fine of up to $250,000. Elizabeth Balcazar and Enrique Balcazar are currently detained pending trial.
The case was investigated by U.S. Department of Homeland Security, HSI, SLED, and U.S. Department of Labor. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elliott B. Daniels and Carrie Fisher Sherard are prosecuting the case.
All charges in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.