Saturday, June 11, 2005

Officials: Fla. Homeless Men "Forced" to Work at Farm

Officials: Fla. Men Forced to Work at Farm: "Officials: Fla. Men Forced to Work at Farm

The Associated Press
Saturday, June 11, 2005; 9:06 AM

EAST PALATKA, Fla. -- A farm labor contractor has been accused of luring homeless men into indentured servitude by forcing them to work off debts from the purchase of alcohol and crack cocaine, authorities said.

Officials are investigating whether conditions at the farmworker camp run by labor contractor Ronald Robert Evans _ which was raided earlier this month by federal and local agents _ amounted to modern-day slavery.

'Evans and his enforcers allegedly employ force or threat of force to keep the workers in a condition of involuntary servitude,' reads a three-page U.S. Department of Labor 'Operation Plan' distributed to agents before the raid."
According to investigators, workers were allegedly lured with promises of work, room and board and were taken to a camp in this poor area of northeast Florida where potatoes and cabbage are grown.

At the end of each day, the workers were offered crack cocaine, alcohol and cigarettes on "credit" and the expenses were deducted from their wages, authorities said. Soon the debts grew larger than the wages and the workers were forced to pay them off.

Observers say the case is unusual because the allegations of indentured servitude involve U.S. citizens. Such cases generally involve illegal immigrants coerced to work with the threat that they will be turned over to authorities.

The camp has at least five motel-style one-story buildings painted yellow with red trim. It is also being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency for discharging cleaning chemicals, soap, grease, food debris and human waste into a creek behind the camp that runs into the St. Johns River

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