OTTUMWA, Iowa — Ottumwa Police have concluded a two-years-long investigation into human trafficking in the city.
Two U.S. residents, originally from Micronesia, pled guilty in Federal Court to two counts of unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of labor trafficking, or forced labor.
Nesly Mwarechong, 46, and Bertino Weires, 51, allegedly took passports and social security cards away from two Micronesia immigrants, who they lured to come work in Ottumwa at the JBS plant.
“According to their plea agreements, the defendants convinced the two victims to leave their homes in Micronesia in December 2019 and travel to the United States by promising them they could work in the United States and send money back to their families,” according to a Justice Department news release. “Once in the United States, the defendants confiscated the victims’ passports and obtained jobs for them at a meat processing plant in Ottumwa, Iowa. Each week, the defendants took the victims to cash their paychecks before seizing almost the entire amount and leaving the victims with only $20 each week.”
“They were essentially charged with forcing these people to work for money and then they were not giving the money to anybody. They would essentially take that money themselves, putting it in their own bank account or have them cash the checks and then immediately give the money to them,” said Jeremy Tosh, an Investigator for Ottumwa Police.
The investigation began in June of 2020 when one of the victims came to the police department with a complaint about having his passport stolen.
“One of the victims had fled the house that he was living in, he had been trying to get his documents back for about three weeks, he came in with his cousin who spoke English,” said Tosh
Officers with the Ottumwa Police Department followed the couple as they took the two young men to get their paychecks. Officers witnessed the victims cashing the checks and then being forced to give the money to the couple.
“This case is very unique and complex and we appreciate the assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office here in the state of Iowa,” said Jason Bell of the Ottumwa Police Department. “Without their cooperation, and willingness to participate and assist us, providing the resources in order for us to do this case, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
“Seeing the relief on their faces being out of that situation really drove home how terrible this is,” said Tosh. “I think the big take away is even though it’s not a sexual trafficking thing, it’s still affected them a lot and their livelihoods, they weren’t able to control their own world.”
Mwarechong and Weires are currently in federal custody and are expected to be sentenced in February 2023.