It was an improbable, incongruous story for an Easter Sunday.
At a flower ranch in the pastoral town of Somis, Mexican workers claimed they had been imprisoned as slaves, required to work 16-hour days and forced to spend their meager wages at a company store with hyper-inflated prices.
A federal grand jury indicted ranch owner Edwin M. Ives, six ranch foremen and an alleged smuggler, charging that they had enslaved more than 100 Mexican laborers.
All have pleaded innocent.
The indictment said Ives used promises of big money to lure unsophisticated workers from rural Mexican villages to his 50-acre Somis compound.
There, the workers learned that they had to pay $435 to the smuggler who had brought them to the United States, the indictment said.
Even after the debt was paid, the workers, who earned about $1 per hour, were not allowed to leave the ranch, according to the indictment.
“It was slave labor,” said Fernando Maldonado, who said he worked at the ranch for three weeks before escaping.
“We realized we had entered the mouth of the wolf.”
In June, 27 workers filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles seeking millions of dollars in damages from Ives, his wife Dolly, seven former ranch overseers and the alleged smuggler.
The district attorney’s office filed a separate suit in Ventura County Superior Court, seeking penalties and fines for alleged violations of state law.
The criminal case is set for trial in March.
It could be years before the civil cases are heard.