OGDEN, Utah, July 2, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — The owner of a traveling carnival currently operating in Ogden has been arrested on human trafficking charges.
A probable cause statement from the 2nd District Court of Weber County said Jordan Nathaniel Jensen, 31, is facing charges of:
- 3 counts of human trafficking, a second-degree felony
- 9 counts of possession of another’s identity documents, a class A misdemeanor
On June 29, the Utah Attorney General’s Office was made aware by the Mexican Consulate based in Salt Lake City of a possible labor trafficking case in Ogden, according to the court documents.
Two possible victims were interviewed, separately, and they said other victims were allegedly experiencing the same exploitation, the statement said.
The two victims told investigators they were hired by a company called Midway West Amusement while they were living in their home country of Mexico. The company is a traveling carnival entertainment company, which visits multiple states providing games and rides.
According to court documents, and victims’ statements, the company is owned and operated by a mother and her two sons, one of which is Jensen. It does not appear that the mother and other brother have been arrested at this time.
Midway West Amusement acquired work visas with the United States government for all workers prior to their arrival in the U.S., the statement said. The workers were issued a temporary work visa, an H-2A visa, which is a program for seasonal foreign workers.
In May of this year, the two victims arrived in the U.S. and started employment with Midway West Amusement under the H-2A program, according to the probable cause statement. The job description for the first victim was to help set up stands and ensure their proper operation during work hours. The job description for the second victim was to drive the trucks across states and help to operate heavy machinery. They were to work “normal hours” for $400 dollars per week, the statement said. The victims claim no one from Midway West Amusement asked them to sign any contract or other documents.
The two victims told authorities the company kept their passports, which contained their visas attached to one of the pages, the statement said. After speaking with other workers the victims say they realized the company had possession of the passports and visas for all their foreign workers inside of a mobile office that travels with the company.
The two victims reported the passports were collected by Jensen, the statement said. Some were collected when they started working within the company, others a little later. Jensen allegedly explained to one of the victims that he kept their passports because “he did not want anyone to escape,” the statement said. “Jordan also advised he had the right to keep the passports according to a contract his company had signed with the U.S. government.”
The two victims reported that all of Midway West Amusement employees are foreign nationals, with H-2A visas, according to the statement.
“After finishing their first work week, the victims believed the verbal agreement between them and Midway West Amusement was not being properly fulfilled,” the statement said. “The victims reported they worked extremely long hours; approximately 70 hours a week, without water or meal breaks. They lived in a confined space inside of a mobile trailer, without running water, electricity, air conditioning, etc. Some trailers contained a bed, some did not. The victims reported they had no kitchen to cook a meal.”
Both victims also reported they were not allowed to leave their working area. “Many times the owners of the business would not give them water or allow them to take a water break for an entire shift, therefore at the end of a shift they were extremely hungry and thirsty,” the statement said.
The two victims claimed the owners, especially Jensen, would constantly threaten to send the workers back to Mexico if they did not perform their jobs well, the statement said.
The victims said they finally decided to leave the carnival. “They asked for their last week’s pay and return of their passports,” the statement said. “They reported that Jordan Jensen ridiculed them, stating he (Jordan) will not pay them or give them their passport until they were back in Mexico. All conversations were made via translation in person or a translator app on their phones, due to the fact Jordan did not speak Spanish and the victims did not speak English.”
The two victims decided to terminate the employment themselves, and left without their last week’s pay and without their passports and visas, the statement said.
The next day, they contacted the Mexican Consulate.
One of the victims was asked by the Utah AG’s office if he would be willing to go back and speak with the owners and ask for his last week’s pay and the return of his passport.
The victim agreed and returned to a staging area where the workers gathered before their working shift, on June 30, the statement said.
Equipped with a video and audio recording device, as well as a live-stream audio device, the victim broadcast the audio of his conversation in real time. A conversation unfolded between the victim and Jensen, with another man acting as translator, according to investigators.
The victim asked Jensen for his last week’s pay and his passport; Jensen refused, police said. He allegedly told the victim he would buy his plane ticket back to Mexico, and once the man boarded the plane, his passport would be returned. Investigators claim Jensen also told the man he would receive his final week’s pay upon his return to Mexico.
A special agent then applied for, and was granted, a search warrant for the office trailer of Midway West Amusement, according to the probable cause statement. Investigators said nine passports from current and former employees were recovered. They claimed three of the passports were known to have been withheld from their rightful owners despite requests they be returned.
Jensen was transported to Weber County Jail, where he is being held without bail.