Alumnus exposes trafficking ring

Straight from graduation, one Ohio Wesleyan alumnus was thrown into the dark world of crime and vice in Marion County.

Spenser Hickey '15 spent much of his time at the Marion Star writing about the heroin epidemic that is infesting Marion County, Ohio, but he also reported on the enslavement of adults and children that occurred practically in his own backyard.

At the dawn on Dec. 17, 2014, police raided the Oakridge Estates trailer park, saving an estimated 45 Guatemalan adults and children as young as 14 from labor enslavement.

Trafficking victims beaten, forced into labor and living in squalid conditions.

They were victims of human trafficking and were essentially forced to work at Trillium Farms, a mega egg farm operation in Wyandot County, cleaning chicken coops and vaccinating and clipping the beaks off birds for 12-hour shifts everyday with little pay.

Even when they were paid, their handlers charged them for rent and made them pay for the cost charged to smuggle them from Guatemala into the United States. One victim, when paid $500, was left with only $20 for the week after the traffickers took their cut.

“They were teenagers,” Hickey said. “One of [the victims] said that they didn’t want to do the work [the traffickers] were forcing him to do anymore. They beat him, put him in a trailer without any running water … there were roaches in there and no heat. They told him if he didn’t cooperate they’d kill his father back in Guatemala.”

Six people were indicted in federal court for inducing migrant workers to enter the U.S illegally for commercial benefit, including leader Aroldo Castillo-Serrano and his associate Conrado Salgado Soto. They were also charged with transporting the migrant workers and pleaded guilty in January 2015.

Additionally, Bartolo Dominguez and Conrado Ulisses Salgado-Borban pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking and harboring aliens.

The community reaction to the trafficking was muted, Hickey said. Many of the citizens had not seen the victims before, as they only lived their lives through the means of their trafficker.

“It wasn’t something a whole lot of people talked about in the community,” said Hickey.

Hickey and co-author Jessie Balmert won the Gannet National Award for Excellence in Narrative Writing for his stories.

Hickey now covers the Statehouse and state government for Hannah News Service in Columbus.