KANSAS CITY — A Moldovan, one of 12 people charged in a massive racketeering scheme, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to one count of forced labor trafficking and agreed to cooperate with the government.
Alexandru Frumusache admitted in a plea bargain that he had aided and abetted an operation in which foreigners were provided with temporary work visas then fanned out to housekeeping jobs in 14 states.
Frumusache admitted that he worked as a secretary for Giant Labor Solutions, a Kansas City-based labor-leasing company, and drove workers to various places, including Alabama, in violation of the work visas they had received.
He came to the U.S. on a temporary visa in November 2007 and worked in the Southeast, prosecutors said. He contacted Giant Labor Solutions in April 2008 seeking help in getting that visa extended and in September 2008 moved to Kansas City where he began working for GLS.
Eight Uzbekistan nationals and four other people were charged in May in the largest human trafficking case ever prosecuted in Kansas City. Frumusache's court-appointed attorney, Tony Miller of Kansas City, said the 24-year-old from Moldova was only a minor player in the ring and was in many ways no different from the victims of the trafficking scheme.
"Everybody wants to come to America," Miller said after the court proceedings. "When put in difficult situations, we might overlook how others are treated, even if we're in the same situation. And that's unfortunate."
Officials say the ring operated from 2001 until this spring, offering people primarily from the Philippines, Dominican Republic and Jamaica chances to work in the U.S.
The indictment said victims paid thousands of dollars for temporary visas, which limited where they could work and what types of jobs they could perform. But officials said workers were told after arriving that if they didn't do what they were told, their visas would be revoked and they or their families could be forced to pay a fee of $5,000 to $10,000.
Prosecutors say Giant Labor used the workers to fill labor contracts in Missouri, Kansas, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina and Wyoming.
According to the indictment, workers in Kansas City were stuck in small, sparsely furnished apartments, had no access to their mail and were charged so many fees that they were sometimes told on payday they owed the company money. Prosecutors said the workers became trapped because they couldn't afford to leave.
Miller said Frumusache was victimized in the same way, forced to live in an overcrowded apartment and sleep on an air mattress, and that he was treated like a servant by the eight Uzbekistan nationals. He was paid $8 an hour with no overtime to drive workers to Alabama, Miller said.
As part of the plea agreement, Frumusache agreed to cooperate with the government in its prosecution of other defendants in the case. While he could face up to 20 years in prison without parole, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, prosecutors indicated his cooperation might result in a shorter sentence.
During his guilty plea, Frumusache questioned the supervised release stipulation because he had understood he would be deported.
Neither prosecutors nor Miller would discuss how much prison time, if any, they expected Frumusache to receive because of his guilty plea.
Sentencing was set for Feb. 25.