BAY CITY — Three people have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Bay City and face charges for conspiring to deliver and help manage illegal aliens at up to 17 dairy farms – and Tuscola and Huron counties are home to at least some of the farms.
Irene Maria Martinez Gonzales, Tina Frost, and William Carlson were indicted March 9. They are out on $20,000 bonds, respectively, after being arrested Jan. 8. They each face up to 10 years in prison, fines of at least $250,000, plus forfeiture of assets.
Most of the case has been sealed, but an affidavit from an agent with Homeland Security Investigations – included with the complaint – details how Gonzales “would find the aliens places to live and work on the 17 farms that she serviced.”
The only identifying information in the affidavit is “Huron and Tuscola Counties” and a reference to raids at dairy farms in Cass City and Ruth in Huron County.
“Martinez Gonzales explained that the farm operators routinely contacted her to let her know how many workers they needed,” according to the agent’s affidavit.
The case put together by Homeland Security Investigations – the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – alleges the activity took place as far back as February, 2008, and as recently as January.
The indictment states that the defendants “conspired and agreed with each other and various farm owners and operators to unlawfully transport, harbor, and shield from detection one or more aliens…”
Further, the indictment alleges the trio “transported illegal aliens to farms in Huron and Tuscola Counties, and elsewhere in the Eastern District of Michigan, to enable the illegal aliens to obtain work and the farms to obtain the services of the illegal alien workers.”
The indictment also charges that Gonzales, Frost, and Carlson:
- Harbored and aided farm operators in harboring illegal aliens in Huron and Tuscola Counties, and elsewhere in the Eastern District of Michigan, to enable the farms to retain the services of the illegal alien workers.
- Helped the illegal alien workers cash their paychecks
- Helped the illegal alien workers send wire transfers of funds, often to other countries
- Helped the illegal alien workers shop for food, clothes and other items
- Transported the illegal alien workers to and from medical and dental appointments
- Transported the illegal alien workers to and from immigration proceedings in Detroit
- Transported the illegal alien workers to and from a foreign consulate in Detroit
- Transported illegal aliens from other states to Michigan to enable the workers to find employment in the Eastern District of Michigan
- Told illegal aliens that they could be hired without identity documents required by law at the farms to which they transported the illegal aliens
- Charged the illegal aliens and the employers of the illegal aliens for the services
The indictment also calls for the defendants to forfeit any proceeds or property they currently have as a result of the alleged operation.
Though the indictment indicates the operation dates to 2008, HSI Special Agent John Ross became involved in January 2012, according to his affidavit.
According to Ross, Gonzales would not only transport illegal aliens to farms, but also help them once they were working by cashing their paychecks at a local bank and shop for necessities for a fee.
Ross also says Gonzales would help illegal aliens send wire transfers, mostly “to countries located south of the United States’ border.”
For example, the HSI investigation found that between February 2008 and June 2014, Gonzales sent more than 90 MoneyGram wire transfers totaling more than $34,000.
The affidavit also cites a May 22, 2013 raid at dairy farms in Ruth and Cass City and associated “stash houses” where the workers lived.
The affidavit doesn’t name specific farms, but it was reported that day that raids had taken place at Parisville Dairy Farm in Ruth and Dunganstown Dairy in Cass City.
State records show Parisville Dairy and Dunganstown are owned by Denis Burke, who as recent as Jan. 25 renewed his business licenses for each operation. Burke, reached by The Advertiser Friday, said “no comment” to all questions regarding illegal aliens and the indictments.
“Of the 18 employees who were found during the (May 22, 2013) searches, 15 were illegal aliens who lived and worked on the rural farms,” according to Ross’ affidavit.
Ross said subsequent interviews of the workers confirmed they were illegal aliens and had been assisted in getting to Michigan’s Thumb region and with help sending money and getting necessities in the area.
“Farm owners and operators often find that illegal workers are much more willing to do the hard work required to obtain the low wages paid by the farms then legal workers,” Ross said in his affidavit.
Several mobile phones were seized and searched, and a total of 22 calls were found to have been made between Gonzales and the farm manager and/or owner from May 2011 to August 2013.
In December 2013, the investigation team began using an undercover agent. Contact was made between the agent and Gonzales who said for $500 she would transport the undercover agent to a place in Michigan where the agent could live and work.
In May 2014, Frost – ex-daughter-in-law of Gonzales – picked up the agent along with Carlson, who were to transfer the agent to a Harbor Beach farm from Toledo. Ross’ affidavit says Frost admitted to the agent of having transported people for seven to eight years and recently recruited Carlson as part of the operation.
Based on public information available at press time, it’s unclear why Gonzales, Frost, and Carlson weren’t arrested until Jan. 8.
A pretrial conference was scheduled for Friday, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Janet Parker did not return a call to The Advertiser by press time to provide an update.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser. com