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Jury Convicts South Dakota Hotel Owners on Federal Peonage
and Document Servitude Charges
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Owners of Comfort Inn and Suites in Oacoma, South Dakota Forced
Filipino Workers to Work Up to 160 hours a Week
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Aberdeen, South Dakota, November 8, 2007 - United States Attorney Marty J. Jackley announced today that an Aberdeen federal jury has returned guilty verdicts against Robert and Angelita Farrell of Mitchell. The jury found the husband and wife guilty on eighteen separate counts regarding the Farrells’ treatment of workers from the Philippines at the Farrells’ Comfort Inn and Suites hotel in Oacoma. After hearing almost a week of testimony describing the conditions in which the Filipino workers lived and worked, the jury convicted the Farrells of nine counts each as follows:
  1. conspiracy to commit peonage (maximum: 5 years, $250,000 fine)
  2. four counts of peonage (maximum per count: 20 years, $250,000 fine)
  3. document servitude (maximum: 20 years, $250,000 fine)
  4. visa fraud (maximum 10 years, $250,000 fine)
  5. two counts of false statements (maximum per count: 5 years, $250,000 fine)
“The federal laws enforced in this case protect the value of human dignity, and the conditions of servitude that these victims were forced to endure were simply unacceptable in any modern-day society,” U. S. Attorney Jackley stated. “The jury’s verdict in this case rests upon strong and compelling evidence,” Jackley added.

In this regard, the jury heard emotional testimony from four victims and several other former workers at the hotel. The witnesses testified that they were brought to the United States to work under an agreement that promised 40 hours a week at pay above the minimum wage. They hoped to earn money to send to their families back in the Philippines.

Once they arrived in South Dakota, however, the Farrells confiscated their visas and passports, made them sign inflated and ever-increasing debt contracts, and held them to work around the clock. Witnesses described working from 8:00 a.m. to midnight, then being forced to attend meetings at the hotel in which the Farrells threatened them with violence and berated them about their work and their supposed debts. Those middle-of-the-night meetings lasted as long as six hours. One worker testified that she went without sleeping for up to five days in a row.

A United States Department of Labor investigator testified that he discovered the Filipino workers were working as many as 160 hours a week at the hotel. When not at the hotel, up to nine Filipino workers were housed in a two-bedroom apartment the Farrells rented about a half mile from the hotel.

The Farrells paid the workers virtually nothing. To make the payroll records look legitimate, the Farrells handed workers paychecks for them to endorse, only to take them right back for the Farrells to deposit back into their hotel bank account.

Several of the workers escaped from the Farrells in July 2006 when they made a call to Lyman County States Attorney Ann Arnoldy who put them in contact with Chamberlain Chief of Police Joseph C. Hutmacher.

The investigation was led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Craig Scherer. The investigation was also assisted by the United States Department of Labor, the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Chamberlain Police Department, and Immigration and Custom Enforcement Attache at the United States Embassy in Manila, Philippines.

Jackley praised the tireless efforts of Assistant United States Attorney Kevin Koliner and Michael J. Frank of the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division for the prosecution of the case.

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Contact:

United States Department of Justice
Office of the United States Attorney
District of South Dakota
Marty J. Jackley
United States Attorney
P.O. Box 3303 Sioux Falls, SD 57101-3303
http://www.usdoj.gov

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Also See: Shrinking Labor Force is Top Challenge for Global Hospitality, Tourism & Service Industries / Jeff Coy / January 2006
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