A day after being swept up in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in six Nebraska towns, 11 people were brought in front of a judge in Lincoln on Thursday.
In groups of four, they walked in with chains around their waists and hands.
A bored little boy stretched out on the courtroom bench as the federal prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods, read through the 14-page indictment detailing the alleged conspiracy.
She explained a plot in which Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, Magdalena Castro Benitez and her son, Antonio De Jesus Castro, who was born here, ran businesses — JP and Sons LLC and J Green Valley LLC — "for the purpose of providing unlawful employment to aliens in the states of Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada."
They allegedly supplied Elkhorn River Farms, O'Neill Ventures, GJW LLC in Ainsworth and others with workers without verifying their identities or completing the required paperwork, and used different names and Social Security numbers to hide they were in the country illegally, Woods said.
Some of the indicted were born here, some are lawful residents and some, like Pablo Sanchez Delgado, had been removed from the country before. One is a deferred-action "Dreamer," brought here by her parents, who worked at a bank.
The first group to go in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart all were citizens, supervisors or managers accused of knowingly helping them. People like John Good.
His attorney, Dave Domina, said Good is a 73-year-old Holt County resident, who has been in the same job for 34 years.
"(He's) well regarded, stable, has enough space in his heart to help somebody who needed some help," the attorney said. "He made no money at this, and never had a motive for making any."
On June 21, Woods alleged, Good told Pablo Sanchez Delgado and Castro Benitez of a possible ICE presence in the O'Neill area and warned them to close the La Herradura restaurant if necessary to avoid being found out.
A day later, Mayra Jimenez, a lawful resident and supervisor and human resources specialist at O'Neill Ventures, allegedly told Pablo Sanchez Delgado that law enforcement had caught two or three of his employees for not having papers, according to the indictment.
Woods says the investigation involved hours of wiretaps; $5.6 million in proceeds, obtained from paychecks converted at Pablo Sanchez Delgado's O'Neill grocery store and money servicing business, El Mercadito; and four properties in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On Wednesday, ICE called it a for-profit fraud that "exploited illegal alien laborers."
In the hallway, Domina said the law doesn't work very well in this area and needs serious attention, which requires bipartisan cooperation.
"And so a lot of people are getting hurt over stupid power politics, and now it's hit Holt County," he said.
Domina said employers also are "willing to take advantage of the desire of people to improve their lot, even at risk to themselves."
If the government has a serious desire to enforce immigration law why don't they charge employers, too, he asked.
"There are three employers identified in this case and their owners aren't in this courtroom," he said.
Domina said federal law enforcement has focused on medium- and small-level people, because the fight against big companies is too costly, making enforcement unfair and skewed.
Federal records show 17 businesses in Nebraska prosecuted in the past 11 years. Places like lawn care companies and demolition companies. None is a major corporation.
In one case, a company was prosecuted for supplying staff to larger meat-packing operations, which weren't charged.
Asked about it Thursday, Michael Norris, criminal chief of the U.S. Attorney's office for Nebraska, said: "This is an ongoing investigation, and we can't comment any further."