Two Georgia labor officials whose jobs involved protecting or advocating for farmworkers have links to one of the largest U.S. human trafficking cases ever prosecuted involving foreign agricultural laborers brought here on seasonal visas.
One individual indicted in the case, Brett Donovan Bussey, left government service in 2018. The other, Jorge Gomez, remains on the job and hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, but officers searched his home in connection with the case and his sister and nephew are among those indicted.
In October, a grand jury indicted Bussey and 23 others for conspiring to engage in forced labor and other related crimes. Federal prosecutors say the defendants required guest farmworkers to pay illegal fees to obtain jobs, withheld their IDs so they could not leave, made them work for little or no pay, housed them in unsanitary conditions and threatened them with deportation and violence.
Two workers died in the heat, according to the indictment. Court records say five workers were kidnapped and one of them was raped.
All defendants who have entered pleas so far have pleaded not guilty in the case, named “Operation Blooming Onion.” Some of the workers harvested onions, the state’s official vegetable.