Micronesian Couple Sentenced for Withholding Passports to Coerce Labor of Two Men in Meat Processing Plant
U.S. District Chief Judge Stephanie M. Rose sentenced defendants Nesly Mwarecheong, 46, and Bertino Weires, 51, U.S. residents and Federated States of Micronesia citizens, to 48 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and nearly $70,000 in restitution to the victims for withholding passports to coerce labor of two men in a meat processing plant.
The defendants previously pleaded guilty in October 2022 to two counts of unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of trafficking or forced labor for recruiting two young men from Micronesia to come to the United States for the purpose of coercing their labor in a meat processing plant for the defendants’ financial gain.
According to court documents, the defendants convinced the two victims to leave their homes in Micronesia in December 2019 and travel to the United States by promising them they could work in the United States and send money back to their families. Once in the United States, the defendants confiscated the victims’ passports and obtained jobs for them at a meat processing plant in Ottumwa, Iowa. Each week, the defendants took the victims to cash their paychecks before seizing almost the entire amount and leaving the victims with a nominal amount each week. The defendants used various means to compel the victims’ labor and services, including confiscating the victims’ passports and social security cards, imposing debts on them, limiting and monitoring their communication with family, physically and socially isolating them and creating a system of total financial dependence on the defendants. In so doing, the defendants created a situation where the victims either had to continue complying with the defendants’ demands or risk being homeless and without a means of supporting themselves in a foreign country where they did not speak the language and had no means of returning home.
“These defendants used the promise of well-paid jobs to lure the victims to come to the United States in search of a better future for themselves and their families,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “These defendants then proceeded to callously exploit the victims, using their power over them to profit off their hard work. The Department of Justice remains committed to seeking justice for survivors of forced labor schemes, holding perpetrators accountable and stripping wrongdoers of their illegal profits.”
“Forced labor can happen anywhere in the United States, including Iowa. We will continue fighting for victims to ensure those who exploit the promise of working in the United States to coerce labor are held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney Richard D. Westphal for the Southern District of Iowa. “Thanks to the diligent work of law enforcement, these acts of coercion and compulsion were stopped.”
Investigator Jeremy Tosh of the Ottumwa Police Department investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Virginia Bruner and Ryan Leemkuil for the Southern District of Iowa and Trial Attorney Christina Randall-James of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit prosecuted the case.