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DOJ: 4 people, 2 from Williamsburg, charged in human trafficking conspiracy

They're accused of bringing in undocumented migrants to work at a laundry business and selling them fake papers, all the while overworking and threatening them.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Four people from Williamsburg and Midlothian have been charged by a grand jury in a human trafficking conspiracy investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

A spokesperson for that office's head attorney, Jessica Aber, said 47-year-old Ana Landaverde, 64-year-old Jeffrey Vaughan, 68-year-old George Evans and a fourth, unnamed defendant will face the 33-count indictment in federal court.

They're accused of bringing in undocumented migrants from Central America to work at a laundry business and setting them up with fraudulent paperwork, all the while overworking and threatening them. They're also facing charges for money laundering.

The unnamed defendant is the person allegedly responsible for selling trafficking victims fake IDs.

The laundry business where the migrants worked goes by Northstar Holdings of Virginia LLC and Magnolia Cleaning Service, LLC.

Aber's spokesperson said between 2018 and the first quarter of 2022, investigators found records that these businesses paid 121 people who didn't have a legitimate Social Security Number. They paid them $1.2 million in wages, which divides out to about $2,500 per person, per year.

"Trafficking can take a lot of different forms," said Jaclyn Merrills, who works anti-trafficking supervisor with nonprofit organization Samaritan House

Trafficking, many times, doesn't play out like it does "in the movies," as Merrills put it. 

"Oftentimes, it can look like accepting a job offer that doesn't end up being what you originally thought it was going to be," she said. 

The DOJ describes one 13-year-old girl who they allegedly brought into the country who was forced to work nights at the business while going to school during the day.

"It's heartbreaking to hear that, that she was so young. And she probably felt scared to tell someone at school," Merrills said. 

"Allegations also include another victim being made to work under threats of deportation, physical violence, and other misuse of law and process. This same victim was made to pay rent to live in the commercial laundry facility where she lacked access to a kitchen, shower, or bath," the attorney's office wrote.

Merrills estimated 10% of the people they're helping right now are survivors of labor trafficking.

"It's not necessarily because there's a growing number of labor trafficking cases, it's just that more are coming to light," she said. "It's finally coming out into the light, so people can get the help they need."

Merrills said warning signs of labor trafficking include a recruitment fee, vague job location, isolation from the community, controlled housing and confiscation of IDs.

Advocates urge people to stay aware and not be afraid to ask someone if they need help. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is at 888-373-7888 and Samaritan House has one for Hampton Roads: 757-430-2120.

The Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force worked with federal, state, and local law enforcement teams to bring charges in the Magnolia case. The DOJ didn't say when it will go to trial.

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