In the past month, three federal investigations into alleged human traffickers operating in Georgia reflect what may be a growing trend: the importation and exploitation of cheap labor in some of the state's most successful industries, from food service to home renovation to the sex trade.
Two years ago, Johannes Du Preez, president of Newton Granite & Marble Inc., was one of Home's Depot's primary suppliers of granite countertops. Now, Du Preez faces a maximum of 15 years in prison after entering a guilty plea in federal court on Nov. 2 for trafficking illegal aliens.
Du Preez, a South African citizen, brought hundreds of South Africans and other immigrants to Georgia by offering false work visas, with the ultimate promise of green cards, a 59-count indictment claims. He's alleged to have forced the immigrants to work grueling hours at his company to repay their supposed travel debts.
Du Preez's plea came a day after convicted human traffickers Shih Kai Feng and Mei Lin Feng were sentenced to five and eight years in prison, respectively. The Fengs were convicted of running a sham employment agency that forced as many as 7,000 immigrants to work 13-hour days in Chinese restaurants across the country. Financial records introduced at the trial showed that the Fengs made more than $2.1 million from the trafficking scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
And in October, former pro-wrestler "Hardbody Harrison" was indicted in a prostitution scheme that trafficked young women between states.
"Within the last year, you see more and more girls out on the streets, and it is because so many pimps are coming into the city from other locations and other states," Atlanta Police Sgt. D.M. Williams is quoted as saying in a study released by the mayor's office a month before the flurry of trafficking prosecutions in federal court. "They feel that the money is here in the city. They are flocking here like doves."
If the past month's activities are any sign, federal prosecutors are succeeding in their mission to topple a perceived growing number of Georgia-based traffickers.
"Alien smuggling tends to be organized, and so we can bring down groups of people [in one case]," says David Nahmias, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. "The scope of the problem is very large, but we continue to have successful prosecutions."