John Barney, the 47 year old co-owner of Butterville Farms in Henderson, was arrested early Wednesday morning on a federal charge of harboring an illegal alien.
(Barney is pictured above on the far right.)
The arrest comes after the death of a migrant worker on the farm last week and the subsequent detaining of eight other workers on the farm by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Jesse Barney, John's brother and a co-owner of the farm, said the federal employment eligibility forms that the workers provided looked legitimate.
They assumed the workers were legal.
The Barney brothers expected the federal agents on Monday to collect the forms, but they never showed.
When they arrived Wedensday morning, Jesse said the agents asked him, "Do you know why we're here?"
Jesse said he assumed to collect the I-9 forms.
"No," they said, according to Jesse. "We're here to arrest your brother."
Jesse said one of the agents told him to expect that his brother would be released after Wednesday's arraignment in Syracuse.
"He had no clue this was coming," Jesse said about his brother.
John Barney appeared in U. S. District Court in Syracuse Wednesday and was released on his own recognizance.
If found guilty, he faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000.
According to the criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, ICE agents determined the worker who died on the farm, Porfirio Lopez, was a citizen of Guatemala and had illegally entered the United States.
Court documents also said John Barney had a conversation with a Jefferson County Sheriff's Department sergeant and that the first thing he said was, "I should have rounded them all up and got 'em out of here before I get in anymore trouble."
According to the complaint, Barney admitted to the sergeant that the Hispanic workers on the employee list were illegal aliens.
ICE agents interviewed the Hispanic workers who, through an interpreter, stated they were illegal aliens from Guatemala and that John Barney knew they were in this country illegally, the complaint states.
In one of this most damning statements in the complaint, one unnamed illiegal alien said John Barney did not ask for any documents when he was hired.
"John told me that he would pay me $7.25 an hour and he also pays my rent," the worker said. "John knows that I am in the United States illegally and he has several people that work for him that are not in the United States legally. I work 12 hour shifts for John at his farm, six days a week. The English people get paid more and they get more time off than I do. When John needs more workers, he will ask employees if they have any family that needs work."
Another illegal worker said he didn't know how his his employer was able to take taxes out of his paychecks because he did not have a Social Security number.
According to the complaint, up to four workers lived in each trailer on Barney's farm and the laborers milked cows in 12 hour shifts, six days a week.
The workers also stated that Barney's wife occasionally cashed their checks and drove them to town to buy groceries.
Read the criminal complaint
Share Your Thoughts for Your Turn