One of two people accused of recruiting workers living in the country illegally to help at a vegetable processing plant in North Dakota pleaded guilty Monday to a federal felony charge.
Prosecutors say Richard Shearer, 57, was hired as a consultant to help improve efficiency and supply labor for the KIDCO Farms plant in Dawson. He allegedly recruited about two-dozen illegal workers in Arizona in 2013 and brought them to North Dakota.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Healy said the company didn't want the workers driving so they were transported to and from work in a van and driven to nearby Bismarck on occasion to buy groceries. The company found housing for the workers, who were prohibited from using alcohol or drugs on the premises.
Healy said the workers were being paid $9 or $10 an hour, but the company deducted $1 per hour for rent and 25 cents an hour for daily transportation.
Shearer's attorney, Lorelle Moeckel, said in court that her client does not dispute the allegations, but added said the events were not as orchestrated as described by the government. Rather, she said, it was a situation that spiraled out of control.
Moeckel was not immediately available for comment after the hearing and did not respond to a request for comment.
Shearer has signed a plea agreement that calls for him to pay back $20,000 in illegal proceeds. The charge calls for a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, but the plea deal calls for the government to recommend a sentence at the low end of guidelines because of Shearer's cooperation.
Moeckel told the court she and her client have been negotiating "for a long time."
Monte Benz, an executive at the plant, also is charged in the case. He is scheduled to appear in court April 9. His attorney, Mark Western, did not respond Monday to requests for comment.
Sentencing for Shearer is scheduled for June 29.