Two dozen people conspired for three years to smuggle Mexican and Central American workers and forced them to work in brutal conditions on farms located across the world, including the southern, middle and northern regions of Georgia, charges a newly unsealed indictment in "Operation Blooming Onion," reports the Savannah Morning News. The 54-count indictment describes a federal investigation into what U.S. Attorney David Estes in southern Georgia called “modern-day slavery.” After receiving a tip from a trafficking hotline in 2018, federal law enforcement officers from the Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the FBI started investigating agricultural organizations registered under the agent Maria Patricio.
The officers discovered that, since 2015, these organizations conspired to bring more than 100 foreign workers into the U.S., exploit them and imprison them under inhumane conditions. On Nov. 17, 200 federal officers executed more than 20 search warrants across three jurisdictions and performed a dozen seizure warrants of financial institutions. Estes called "Operation Blooming Onion" the "largest organization of law enforcement to go after this particular offense ever.” The trafficked workers primarily labored on onion farms, digging with their bare hands, and paid only 20 cents for each bucket. The conspirators forced the workers, despite making very little, to pay for transportation, food, and housing. The 24 conspirators reaped reaped more than $200 million over three years from the scheme, which involved laundering the funds through cash purchases of land, homes, vehicles and businesses, and through cash purchases of cashier’s checks