The 143 workers paid as much as $3,500 each, lured to South Florida from Haiti with false promises of steady paying jobs in construction or on farms, the hope of getting permanent residency and making a life in the U.S., they said.
But when they arrived, they found the jobs didn't exist, and they were left to fend for themselves -- the victims of a fraud perpetrated by two Broward women, prosecutors said.
The plot was so audacious that one of the women, Jetta McPhee, 59, of Tamarac, even went to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince to push for the temporary work visas, according to an indictment issued this month.
McPhee pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit visa fraud and two counts of aiding and abetting visa fraud Friday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale and was released on a $100,000 bond.
Marie Nicole Dorval, 43, of Coral Springs, already has pleaded guilty to her role in the fraud and is expected to turn herself in next month to serve a two-year federal prison sentence.
Dorval admitted she used her now-defunct Margate company, Manidor Financial Group Inc., to help recruit workers and convince authorities that the job offers were legitimate.
Prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C., said the women lied to the federal government about the availability of jobs to get guest worker visas for seasonal work and lied to the Haitian citizens so they'd pay for the opportunity to work here.
The year-long conspiracy began in April 2008 and involved McPhee and Dorval getting a signed letter from the owner of a South Florida construction company claiming that he would hire 150 workers.
Dorval and McPhee offered potential workers a contract that said they'd be paid $8.42 an hour for working on farms or construction sites in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, that free food and housing would be provided for some and they could be eligible for green cards that would let them stay permanently.
When several of the recruits were turned down by U.S. Embassy officials in Haiti, McPhee emailed embassy workers, lied about the contracts and traveled to the embassy in March 2009 to successfully persuade authorities to issue visas for the workers.
When the workers arrived here, they were left jobless for months and told to fend for themselves or live in filthy trailers with no beds and no electricity, records show. Some were moved to farms in Gainesville and South Carolina in July 2009 but were never paid what they were promised, Dorval admitted.
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