Rancher charged after complaints of abuse
John Peroulis, sons accused of beating, witholding food from Peruvian workers
November 27, 2000
CRAIG, Colo. (AP) A Moffat County sheep rancher and his two sons have been charged with mistreating their foreign employees after the workers complained they were beaten and ill-fed.
The U.S. Department of Labor filed civil charges against John Peroulis and his two sons, Louis and Stan, on allegations that they abused Peruvian sheepherders.
The Peroulis family denies the charges. Their lawyer, Jeff Pagliuca of Denver, said many allegations, including those of beatings, were based on complaints that never led to criminal charges.
”It certainly is an unfair approach to use those unfounded allegations in this forum,” Pagliuca said. ”My experience in law enforcement is if there’s a crime, they prosecute it.”
If the case goes to trial, the family could lose its right to hire foreign workers under the H-2A visa program, said Richard Habera, district director in Denver for the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division. The H-2A program allows non-U.S. citizens to fill specific agricultural jobs so long as farmers show they can’t fill the jobs with U.S. citizens.
The family is currently allowed to hire eight H-2A workers to herd sheep for about $650 a month, court documents say. The employees live on the ranch, which has sheep camps from Craig to Baggs, Wyo.
The Labor Department alleged the Peroulises violated H-2A program rules by not giving the workers enough food, withholding wages and discouraging workers from cooperating with investigations.
Detective K.C. Hume at the Moffat County Sheriff’s Department said herders had complained of mistreatment at the ranch for years but that no criminal charges were ever filed.
According to court documents, herders complained of not getting enough to eat or not being allowed to eat during the day. One herder alleged in 1997 that Louis Peroulis beat him in the chest and head when he mistakenly branded animals belonging to another ranch, according to Moffat County Sheriff’s Department records. The department report said investigators never found evidence of any beating.
The department also alleged that the family broke H-2A rules by forcing the workers to pay for equipment they needed for work and not reimbursing their travel expenses or giving them enough water for bathing or cooking.
Pagliuca said the case has not been scheduled, and the Peroulises want to avoid a trial. The charges were filed in U.S. District Court in Denver on Sept. 25.