Prosecutors have charged a couple from Michigan's Thumb region with conspiring to supply dairy farms with workers who were in the U.S. illegally.
A criminal complaint filed in federal court describes a long-running scheme that involved phony identification, "stash houses," shuttles between Michigan and Ohio and regular stops at a bank to cash nearly $2 million in paychecks over a four-year period.
Yolanda and Ralph Stewart, of Sanilac County, were released on bond last week. Their lawyer, Paul Beggs, didn't immediately respond to Monday phone or email messages seeking comment.
Yolanda Stewart charged workers hundreds of dollars to get a job at dairy farms, authorities allege.
"On numerous occasions, surveillance agents observed Yolanda Stewart driving illegal aliens to and from dairy farms in Huron and Tuscola counties to places where she or the workers cashed ... paychecks," Homeland Security agent John Ross wrote.
She also helped workers send at least $81,000 to their home countries and assisted them with groceries and other necessities, he said.
In May 2012, an undercover agent posing as a laborer was picked up in Toledo, Ohio, and driven to a dairy farm in Bad Axe. Yolanda Stewart said the cost would be $500, plus $200 for fraudulent documents, Ross said.
"Yolanda Stewart told the (agent) that she helps Mexicans at nine or 10 different area farms and has been doing so for approximately 13 years," Ross said.
It's not the first investigation of dairy farm labor in the Thumb region. In 2011, the owners of a 5,000-cow farm near Bad Axe were placed on probation and ordered to pay $2.7 million for employing dozens of people who were in the U.S. illegally.