American Truckers Allege Fraud as Foreign Workers Hired in Sugar Fields – NBC 6 South Florida

As Florida’s sugar harvest nears its finish, it’s a bustling time within the fields and mills that produce lots of of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} for Massive Sugar, its contractors and staff.

A few of them are seasonal employees, non-citizens introduced in by an trade that certifies to the federal government that no Individuals can be found to do the work they do.

However one group of American truckers advised NBC 6, of their case, that’s Massive Sugar’s large lie.

Sugar is king in Clewiston, heralded on the town’s welcome signal as “America’s sweetest city.”

The underside line can get sweeter for its largest company, U.S. Sugar, the extra it will probably decrease prices of harvesting uncooked cane and hauling it by truck and rail to its refinery.

For the 2019-20 season, a number of American impartial truckers began hauling trailers stuffed with cane from U.S. Sugar fields for Caloosa Transport LLP, a partnership half-owned by common associate U.S. Sugar.

A contract, offered to NBC 6 Investigators, promised them $30 an hour as much as seven days per week for as much as eight months.

However one of many truckers, Paula Torres Martinez, advised NBC 6 Investigators, “They solely allow us to work two weeks. We obtained fired with none rationalization, with out telling us something,” she mentioned. “They used us. I felt used.”

A few of the employees say they invested greater than $10,000 to get their vans prepared for the harvest season.

Now, they allege in a lawsuit, U.S. Sugar and Caloosa Transport LLP have been conspiring to defraud them by mendacity to them and the US authorities.

In a response to the go well with, each firms denied these claims, saying the case is about breach of contract – not fraud.

However the drivers’ lawyer, Javier Basnuevo, has uncovered paperwork he says helps his purchasers’ claims.

In an August 2019 letter, U.S. Sugar’s agent advised the U.S. Division of Labor it has an “emergency state of affairs” and “harvested crop will rot within the subject” until it will probably rent 50 overseas employees with H-2A visas.

By finishing the H-2A utility, the corporate licensed it “has been unsuccessful in finding ample numbers of certified U.S. candidates for the job alternative” and “there are inadequate U.S. employees obtainable within the space(s) able to performing the momentary companies or labor within the job alternative.”

The drivers, who used their very own vans to start the work in October 2019, advised NBC 6 that was information to them.

“There should not many choices,” mentioned one of many plaintiffs, Leonard Cabrera Barroso. “These firms have all of the work, virtually… if you wish to work, you need to work with them.”

Then, the ultimate insult: They discovered they have been changed with overseas employees making $11.24 an hour driving Caloosa’s vans.

“I felt like they betrayed us, they lied to us, they used us,” Torres Martinez mentioned.

Of their lawsuit, they name it conspiracy to commit fraud – claiming U.S. Sugar filed “false and deceptive functions” with the feds, whereas Caloosa “made false representations (to) and hid information from” the drivers.

“U.S. Sugar utilized for these employees, then had them come down and lent them to Caloosa to do the identical actual driving that my purchasers have been underneath contract to carry out,” Basnuevo mentioned.

Citing sworn testimony from a Caloosa’s government, Basnuevo added, “The one causes these contracts have been canceled was that overseas H-2A employees got here to take their jobs.”

In that testimony, the Caloosa’s government mentioned the corporate decided “we now not wanted them … (as a result of) we had different drivers,” the H-2A visa holders. Requested by Basnuevo if there have been “different concerns into why you now not wanted the drivers,” the Caloosa’s consultant replied, “No.”

Final week, in a movement to have a choose take away what they known as “scandalous, immaterial and impertinent” allegations from the lawsuit, Caloosa and U.S. Sugar argued the truckers’ declare that they have been changed by H-2A visa employees is fake.

They mentioned the visa employees have been employed as staff of U.S. Sugar, whereas the truckers have been impartial contractors who entered into an settlement with Caloosa.

Of their movement, the businesses’ lawyer wrote the addition of U.S. Sugar and fraud claims within the lawsuit was a “automobile to create scandal and capitalize on mischaracterizations of the H-2A program.”

In a separate movement to dismiss the fraud and conspiracy counts, they argued the dispute is, at most, about an alleged breach of contract and never fraud or conspiracy.

When requested in regards to the case, U.S. Sugar referred NBC 6 to Caloosa.

In an announcement to NBC 6, Caloosa would solely say: “This pertains to a personal business contract dispute between Caloosa and a handful of impartial trucking firms (that) Caloosa is at the moment working to resolve.”

However for the truckers whose livelihoods have been upended, it’s additionally about U.S. Sugar and what they allege have been its un-American methods.

“U.S. Sugar utilized for overseas H-2A visa employees from the U.S. authorities by telling the U.S. authorities there have been no American employees prepared, prepared and in a position to try this work,” lawyer Basnuevo mentioned. “That was, in fact, unfaithful, as a result of my purchasers have been right here, they have been in a position to do the work they usually had contracts to take action they usually have been doing it.”

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