The owner of a Ventura County flower ranch, where Mexican laborers claim they were imprisoned behind barbed-wire fences and forced to work for sub-minimum wages, was criminally charged Friday with violating the workers' civil rights.
Edwin M. Ives, 53, surrendered to federal authorities after early-morning raids Friday by about 50 agents at his two ranches in Ventura County and his Griffith-Ives Co. headquarters in West Los Angeles, investigators said.
Three ranch foremen and an accused smuggler were arrested during the raids and arraigned later Friday in Los Angeles federal court on charges by the U.S attorney's office that they conspired to smuggle workers from Mexico and hold them in "involuntary servitude" at Ives' 50-acre compound in Somis, 15 miles east of Ventura.
After a brief hearing, U.S. Magistrate Venetta Tassopulos released Ives on $150,000 bail and freed accused smuggler Mauro Casares-Padilla, 64, and foremen Pedro Pinzon-Juarez and Rony Havive, both 30, on $25,000 bonds. Alvaro Ruiz-Santiago, 39, remained in custody.
A warrant was issued for the arrest of another Ives foreman, Josue David Pinzon-Juarez, the brother of Pedro Pinzon-Juarez. Investigators said Josue David Pinzon-Juarez is out of the country.
Robert M. Talcott, attorney for Ives, maintained his client's innocence.
"Anybody who goes out to the facility (Somis) and looks with open eyes will know that the allegations are totally and unequivocally rubbish," Talcott said in an interview. "Nobody's being held there without their consent."
Gerald Klippness, the U.S. immigration agent who directed Friday's raids, agreed in an interview that working conditions at Ives' Somis and Moorpark ranches now appear good. And only two of 22 laborers found at the ranches Friday are in the country illegally, he said.
But Klippness said that Ives apparently has known he was under investigation since December, when the Border Patrol arrested six illegal workers at the front gate of the compound.
"There was no evidence this morning of the kinds of conditions alleged to have been there four months ago," Klippness said.
Until last December, however, laborers at the Somis compound were forbidden from leaving until $435 in debts owed to smuggler Casares-Padilla were deducted from their earnings, according to an Immigration Service affidavit released with the U.S. attorney's criminal complaint.
Even after debts were paid, workers were ordered not to leave the compound or they would be fired and immigration agents alerted, 20 former ranch workers told federal investigators, according to the affidavit.
While at the ranch, the workers said they received a fraction of the $4.25-an-hour minimum wage while toiling 16 hours a day. They also told investigators that they were required to buy food and supplies from a company store at inflated prices, the affidavit said.
In its criminal complaint, the U.S. attorney's office cites the case of one worker, Juan Mendez-Cruz.
Ives and his employees kept Mendez-Cruz prisoner for eight months in 1989 by "refusing to allow him to leave the ranch, and forcing him to work approximately 16 hours a day, six days a week, and keeping him at the ranch by means of threats of physical harm and intimidation, and by keeping the gates to the ranch locked and guarded at all times," according to the complaint.
Much of the government's case apparently is based on evidence gathered by U.S. Department of Labor investigator Charles Logan.
According to the affidavit, Logan inspected the Somis compound and company records and found Griffith-Ives to have violated a variety of labor laws.
Although Griffith-Ives would only allow inspections scheduled through its attorneys, Logan found "squalid and unsanitary bathrooms, showers and sinks which were locked with padlocks and locked refrigerators, all of which are violations" of law, the affidavit says.
Company payroll records appeared falsified, the affidavit says.
Many company records at the Griffith-Ives Beverly Boulevard headquarters were seized Friday, Klippness said.
Times staff writer Linda Chong contributed to this story.