A federal magistrate refused Wednesday to jail flower rancher Edwin M. Ives and two of his employees who are charged with enslaving Mexican laborers at Ives' Somis compound during the 1980s.
Prosecutors argued that after Ives was indicted for slavery in May, the rancher, foreman Pedro Pinzon and ranch employee Alvaro Ruiz conspired to threaten and bribe witnesses in the case.
But U. S. Magistrate Joseph Reichmann said he would not jail the men because he is unfamiliar with the case and eight months still remain before their trial, set for Sept. 21.
The effort to jail Ives, who is free on $150,000 bond, follows last week's new indictment by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles. The indictment added three defendants to the original eight and added charges of witness tampering, extortion and racketeering to existing slavery and labor counts.
Wednesday, federal immigration agent Scott Hatfield testified that attempts by Ives and his employees to tamper with witnesses continued into this month.
Hatfield said agents for Ives had repeatedly gone to the village of Santa Ana Yareni in the rural Mexican state of Oaxaca and offered former Ives ranch employees $1,000 to recant their statements to federal investigators.
Other potential witnesses have been threatened and at least one severely beaten, the new indictment says.
Hatfield also testified that an investigator for Ives' lawyers, Luis Vasquez, had accompanied fugitive defendant Hector Hernandez when bribes and threats were made in the Mexican village.
In a second alleged incident, Hatfield said, a recent employee at the Ives ranch called Marco Abarca, the civil attorney for 27 farm workers who have sued Ives for back wages, and thanked him for money Abarca allegedly had given him.
The conversation was an apparent attempt "to set up Marco," Assistant U. S. Atty. Carol Gillam said.