LINCOLN, Neb. — ICE officials served search warrants at 13 locations, 11 in Nebraska on Wednesday, arresting roughly 130 people, according to a press release by the Department of Homeland Security. Some of those arrested appeared in court on Thursday and a federal indictment was unsealed, giving more information about the arrests.
The indictment names 17 people and three companies as having conspired to harbor and conceal illegal immigrants by unlawfully employing, transporting and housing them, and helping them avoid detection by immigration authorities. The three companies named, which were allegedly created to provide illegal workers to companies in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada, are JP and Sons, LLC, J Green Valley, LLC, and Castro Properties, LLC.
The indictment claims one of the companies' founders and operators would post available jobs and his phone number on Facebook. He then provided illegal workers to several companies, including Elkhorn River Farms and O'Neill Ventures.
Officials say the companies' operators used different names and social security numbers for the illegal workers. They also say a U.S. citizen who was a supervisor at Elkhorn River Farms, and two Lawful Permanent Residents who were supervisors at O'Neill Ventures, assisted in employing illegal workers.
The companies named in the indictment required the illegal workers to convert their paychecks to U.S. currency through their companies. Money was then withheld from the workers, who were told falsely that extra money was being taken for federal taxes. The indictment says more than $8 million in transactions were conducted, all through company accounts at Great Western Bank. An employee at the bank assisted in harboring the conspiracy by handling the transactions, officials say.
The indictment says more than $5.6 million was generated from harboring the illegal workers. Some of that money was then used to buy commercial and real estate assets in Las Vegas and Nebraska.
Authorities say illegal workers were housed and transported to avoid detection by immigration officials, and if temporary visas expired, false identities were created to help the workers stay employed.
Some of those arrested appeared in federal court in Lincoln Thursday, where they were read the 14-page indictment in Spanish. Eleven pleaded not guilty to the charges, which included conspiracy to conduct money laundering and conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens.
Some of them could face up to 10 years in prison, if convicted.
Defense attorneys denied their clients committed crimes, arguing that some of the allegations could be equated to renting a home to someone or providing a ride to work.