William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sun, 12 Jun 2005 03:11:45 -0400

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Officials: Fla. Men Forced to Work at Farm

Officials: Fla. Men Forced to Work at Farm

The Associated Press
Saturday, June 11, 2005

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 
Evans was charged last week with making false statements to a federal 
investigator and allowing unauthorized drivers to transport farmworkers. 
Three associates were arrested on similar charges. He was released on 
$50,000 bond and ordered to have no contact with the camp, a parcel of land 
off a dirt enclosed by chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.
Evans, 47, has not been charged with any crime involving indentured 
servitude. However, officials said additional charges were likely.
"Certainly we will look at many, many avenues and potential charges," said 
Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa.
Evans did not return several phone calls and no one answered the door last 
Tuesday at his home about 1 1/2 miles from the camp. One of his attorneys, 
Robert Fields, said it was too early to comment on the allegations but said 
Evans has cooperated with authorities.
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 
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
Federal authorities were first notified about the case by the Coalition of 
Immokalee Workers, a farmworkers' advocacy group in southwest Florida. 
Several farmworkers from the camp have been working with federal agents in 
their investigation.
The coalition was contacted by workers at the camp, said Laura Germino, a 
leader of the group. The coalition has aided authorities in the prosecution 
of five previous cases of farmworker slavery in Florida in recent years.

 2005 The Associated Press

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