CRIME BLOTTER

Owner of Vashon Island landscaping company sentenced for labor, human trafficking

May 1, 2024, 9:06 AM

vashon island labor trafficking...

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

A Vashon Island resident and owner of a landscape company, Brothers Landscaping, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for 21 federal felonies related to human trafficking and forced labor.

According to the U.S. District Court in Seattle, Jesus Ruiz-Hernandez — also known as Christo Jesus Escobar Solares — created a business model built on “enticing vulnerable people” from Mexico primarily to work at his company, only to later force them to work for him for little to no money. He would use both their debts and immigration status as leverage to keep them at his company as cheap labor.

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“For years, Jesus Ruiz-Hernandez lived a lie. He presented himself as the upstanding and hardworking owner of a successful landscaping business on Vashon Island,” U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman. “In reality, Ruiz-Hernandez was neither hardworking nor law-abiding.”

Records filed in the case and testimony at trial revealed Ruiz-Hernandez would lure victims from his hometown of Vista Hermosa, Michoacan, promising a better life for their families. In exchange, Ruiz-Hernandez would require his future victims to put up collateral, including the temporary relinquishment of parental rights and interest in family properties.

Using smugglers he hired, Ruiz-Hernandez would bring the undocumented victims to the U.S. and force them to work for his company on Vashon Island. The victims faced “exorbitant fees” for rent, food and other expenses, according to court documents.

Ruiz-Hernandez was convicted of exploiting the labor of seven people not legally in the U.S. Prosecutors acknowledged that his criminal conduct had gone on for more than seven years and likely involved more than seven victims. The court also found he committed aggravated sexual abuse against one of the victims.

“The crimes committed here will leave a scar on the victims and the entire community that Ruiz-Hernandez conned into believing that he lawfully supported, that he was pursuing the American dream,” Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security operations in the Pacific Northwest, said in a prepared statement. “He was in fact subjecting would-be workers into a life of subjugation.”

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He was also convicted of six counts of money laundering.

“Ruiz-Hernandez treated his victims as nothing more than commodities to earn him money,” Gorman stated. “He either refused to pay them at all, claiming that they owed him for outrageously inflated amounts for rent and other expenses, or paid them well below what they had earned.

“He treated them as indentured servants, forcing them to perform unpaid labor both at his house and at the rental properties,” Gorman continued.

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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Owner of Vashon Island landscaping company sentenced for labor, human trafficking