Rancher faces federal charges
Complaints recorded against the Peroulis family for nearly a decade
November 30, 2000
Verbally and physically abusing foreign sheepherders, confiscating passports and visas, and providing workers with insufficient amounts of food and unsuitable housing are some of the charges the United States Department of Labor has brought against local sheep rancher John Peroulis and his sons, Louis and Stan.
The U.S. Department of Labor filed civil charges Sept. 25 against the three for mistreating their foreign H-2A sheepherders.
According to court documents from the U.S. District Court in Denver, the U.S. Department of Labor inspected the Peroulis ranch in early September, and believes that they “have been mistreating, and continue to mistreat, their H-2A herders.”
The documents cite several charges: abuse, confiscating herders’ documents, preventing the herders from communicating with their families by telephone, withholding or destroying some of the herders’ mail, and retaliating against herders who complained or supplied investigators with information regarding complaints.
Other charges include not providing workers with sufficient food to have three adequate meals a day, not giving them sufficient time to eat meals and not providing adequate water for drinking, cooking or bathing. The documents also stated the three ranchers violated housing regulations and took illegal deductions from the herders’ wages.
This isn’t the first time Peruvian workers have complained about their employers, but it is the first time a government agency has filed charges against the ranchers. The Moffat County Sheriff’s Department has taken eight complaints from the ranch’s H-2A workers since 1992. The department usually receives one complaint per year from the entire county.
Most of the Peruvians’ complaints have been for assault. After every incidence, the Sheriff’s Department began investigating the cases, but workers left the area within days of filing complaints, and the cases had to be dropped when the victims failed to prosecute. The Sheriff’s Department never charged the Peroulis’ with a crime, so the cases have never gone to court.
“They, [H-2A workers] don’t understand our justice system in the U.S.,” said Jerry Hoberg, Moffat County’s undersheriff. “So, by the time it’s time to start looking at this further, they’ve left. We can’t prosecute because they’re not here.”
As far as the Hoberg can remember, none of the workers have gone back to work on the ranch after filing a complaint.
One of the charges the U.S. Department of Labor filed against the Peroulises is for retaliating against herders who complained and supplied investigators with information for the labor department’s case.
“When the Peruvians come in to file a complaint, all they want is a passport and a paycheck,” said K.C. Hume, a detective for the Sheriff’s Department.
More workers from the Peroulis ranch have filed complaints against their employers than other ranches in the area, but the department has never been able to verify any of the complaints, Hoberg said.
The Peroulises had no comment on the charges, and their attorney did not return repeated phone calls.