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News / Northwest

WA man sentenced for forcing people into servitude while living a lavish lifestyle

By Puneet Bsanti, The News Tribune
Published: May 2, 2024, 7:39am

TACOMA — The owner of a Vashon Island landscaping company was sentenced on Tuesday in federal court for smuggling people across the U.S.-Mexico border and forcing them into servitude while living a lavish lifestyle with his family.

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart sentenced Jesus Ruiz-Hernandez, 45, to 20 years in prison for 21 felonies related to human trafficking and forced labor. He was found guilty in January following a 13-day jury trial in U.S. District Court in Seattle, according to a Department of Justice news release.

“For years, Jesus Ruiz-Hernandez lived a lie. He presented himself as the upstanding and hardworking owner of a successful landscaping business on Vashon Island. In reality, Ruiz-Hernandez was neither hardworking nor law-abiding,” U.S. Attorney Gorman said in the release.

Ruiz-Hernandez, who also went by Christo Jesus Escobar Solares, lured victims from his hometown of Vista Hermosa in the Mexican state of Michoacan with the promise of a better life. He required his victims to put up their family properties as collateral and temporarily relinquish parental rights, according to a previous News Tribune story.

Ruiz-Hernandez put the victims to work for his company, Brothers Landscaping. It later changed its name to Brothers Landscape Vashon. Ruiz-Hernandez charged them exorbitant fees for rent, food and other expenses, court records show. He housed them both in his home and worker properties while holding increasing debts over their heads.

“The crimes committed here will leave a scar on the victims and the entire community that Ruiz-Hernandez conned into believing that he lawfully supported, that he was pursuing the American dream when he was in fact subjecting would be workers into a life of subjugation,” Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations operations in the Pacific Northwest, said in the release.

Ruiz-Hernandez forced one victim to work without pay and sexually abused him. In total, Ruiz-Hernandez was convicted of exploiting the labor of seven people who were not legally in the United States, the story said.

During the trial, it was revealed that Ruiz-Hernandez and his brothers had deposited more than $1.5 million in customer checks between 2017 and 2022, the story said. They were able to purchase two real estate parcels on Vashon. The properties were forfeited to the government.

In his sentencing memorandum, Ruiz-Hernandez’s attorney said that his client does not have prior convictions and recommended a sentence of between 27 to 57 months in prison. The defendant is not a U.S. citizen and would be deported back to Mexico when released from prison. The documents said that Ruiz-Hernandez’s mother is also supportive of him and believes he was “trying to help people.”

At sentencing, Robart said that after observing Ruiz-Hernandez through the trial he saw “a complete lack of respect for the truth,” the release said.