From OrlandoSentinel.com, “Jon Burstein, Sun-Sentinel, 25 Oct 2011.
FORT LAUDERDALE— The operator of a now-defunct Margate company promised steady-paying jobs to Haitian workers, but left them in the U.S. desperately fending for themselves or living in trailers without electricity, according to federal prosecutors.
Marie Nicole Dorval, the president of Manidor Financial Group Inc., was criminally charged on Monday with a single count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud. She is accused of using a network of recruiters in Haiti to lure 145 people to South Florida in April 2009 on temporary work visas.
The workers paid Dorval and her recruiters, thinking they would be getting jobs in construction or on a farm with the chance of eventually getting green cards to stay, according to the U.S. Department of Justice‘s Civil Rights Division.
Once the workers arrived in South Florida, there was no work or housing, according to court records. Some were eventually transported to Gainesville-area farms where they lived in trailers with floors covered in filth and no beds, federal prosecutors said.
Dorval, 41, could face up to five years in prison on the single charge filed in Fort Lauderdale federal court. Prosecutors wrote in court documents that they believe the trial will last “0 days,” a clear indication they think the criminal case will end in a plea deal.
Six of the workers had attempted to sue Dorval in 2009, saying they had each paid in excess of $3,500 to come to the United States. They alleged they were stranded in Florida and told not to complain or else immigration officials would be called, according to the Broward Circuit Court lawsuit.
That case was dismissed. The workers’ attorney, Barry Silver, said his clients “pretty much disappeared into the woodwork” after the lawsuit was brought.
“We’re still trying to track them down and if we can, we will refile the case,” Silver said. “[Manidor] seemed like an exceptionally shady operation.”
Court documents did not list a criminal defense attorney for Dorval. An attorney who represented her in the civil lawsuit against Manidor did not return a phone call.
The case marks the second time in two years that a South Florida company has been accused of luring Haitians to the United States with the false promise of steady wages under a temporary worker program.
The owners of two North Miami Beach companies are facing federal charges in Gainesville. They are accused of luring about 50 workers to the United States, then taking their passports and forcing them to live in substandard conditions on an Alachua County farm.
Several workers suffered permanent scars when they were forced to pick beans in a field that had just been sprayed with chemicals, according to court records.
Carline Ceneus, owner of Carline Hot Pickers, and Willy Paul Edouard, owner of Puroul Picking, could go on trial as early as January.
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