Farm Housing Mennonite Boys Engaged in Human Trafficking, Lawsuit Says

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In a national suit against the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church, 2 plaintiffs said they were deprived of nutrient and restrained with zip ties astatine a forced-labor farm.

Liberty Ridge Farm successful  McAlisterville, Pa. Troubled boys who were housed determination   worked six days a week with nary  wage  and were physically and mentally abused, according to a lawsuit.
Credit...Google Earth

Neil Vigdor

Nov. 29, 2021, 4:29 p.m. ET

Two men filed a national suit this period against the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church, saying that they were victims of a quality trafficking strategy portion they lived astatine a forced-labor workplace for troubled boys tally by a religion member.

The suit said that the men, who were 14 and 18 erstwhile they archetypal joined the farm, worked six days a week with nary pay, and that they were physically and mentally abused erstwhile they stayed astatine Liberty Ridge Farm successful McAlisterville, Pa. The suit said they were denied nutrient and zip-tied astatine times portion astatine the farm.

The workplace is astir 40 miles northwest of Harrisburg, Pa., successful Juniata County, which is location to respective churches and schools affiliated with the Mennonites, a blimpish Christian denomination known for its agrarian manner and disconnect from technology.

Now successful their mid-20s, the men were lone identified by their initials successful the lawsuit, which was filed connected Nov. 17 successful U.S. District Court successful Allentown, Pa. The ailment said that the men were often punished aft the radical successful complaint told them that they had not worked hard capable oregon that they had acted “against the Bible.”

Punishments included “dragging chains implicit their shoulders, breaking boulders into tiny pieces by manus with a tiny hammer and digging retired stumps by hand,” according to the lawsuit.

If the boys discussed leaving the farm, the suit said, they were threatened with excommunication from the religion oregon their families.

Renee E. Franchi, a lawyer for the 2 men, said connected Monday that she expected further plaintiffs would articulation the lawsuit.

“From what we understand, determination were galore different young men who had akin traumatic experiences,” Ms. Franchi said, estimating that the fig could beryllium successful the dozens. She said the workplace housed 4 to six boys astatine immoderate fixed time.

One of the plaintiffs went to unrecorded astatine the workplace successful 2011 and remained determination until 2014, according to the lawsuit, which identified him by the initials D.C., and arsenic a New Jersey resident.

The different antheral arrived astatine the workplace successful 2019 and spent 10 months there, according to the lawsuit, which identified him by the initials J.D.M., and arsenic a Missouri resident.

The suit did not elaborate connected wherefore the 2 plaintiffs were placed astatine the farm.

Many of the boys who lived astatine the 80-acre workplace — which included chickenhearted houses, cattle and hog buildings, and a store for making woody pallets — did not person immoderate schooling, the suit said.

Residents oregon their families were required to wage $2,300 a period to be Liberty Ridge, which served “troubled” boys who had “special spiritual, emotional, and societal needs,” the suit said, citing a religion publication. Mentors accompanied each of the boys each the time, including portion they were sleeping, the suit said.

The Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church could not beryllium instantly reached for remark connected Monday.

Attempts were made to interaction religion leaders done the Mennonite Heritage Center, an enactment devoted to telling the communicative of Mennonite religion and beingness successful eastbound Pennsylvania, and done the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies astatine Elizabethtown College successful Pennsylvania. A connection was besides near for a section religion deacon.

The workplace and its owner, identified successful the suit arsenic Martin Nelson, were besides named arsenic defendants. Neither of them responded to a petition for remark connected Monday. Court records did not database lawyers for the defendants. The suit was reported earlier by The Morning Call successful Allentown.

It was not instantly wide whether the workplace continues to run arsenic a location for Mennonite boys.

Mennonites are portion of the 17th-century Protestant question known arsenic Anabaptism. So are the Amish, a radical known for its much blimpish customs, similar shunning automobiles and worshiping successful homes, barns oregon shops.

According to the Mennonite Heritage Center, eastbound Pennsylvania Mennonites divided from the Lancaster Mennonite Conference successful 1968, seeking a stricter knowing of religion discipline. While they support a plain formal and bash not usage televisions oregon radios, eastbound Pennsylvania Mennonites worship successful English alternatively of German and thrust cars, Joel Horst Nofziger, the center’s enforcement director, said connected Monday.

In the lawsuit, the men accused the religion and the farm’s operators of violating authorities and national quality trafficking laws, successful summation to national racketeering laws.

Ms. Franchi, the lawyer for the 2 men, said that it had been hard to stitchery accusation astir the farm’s cognition due to the fact that of the quality of the Mennonite church.

“There truly isn’t a full batch of accusation retired there, period,” she said. “They support themselves beauteous cleanable disconnected the internet.”

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