Michael Lee, p2

Every Friday, Michael brought the men their paychecks. He told them to write their names on the checks. Then he took the checks and put them in his bank account and brought the men money. Before he gave them the money though, he took off what he’d already given them for food. And he also took off the money they owed him for rent on the house. He took off money for other things too —sometimes he couldn’t even explain why he was taking it off.

Sometimes, instead of giving the men money, Michael paid them in alcohol or cocaine. If they objected to being paid in this way , he told them that if they didn’t accept it, they’d get nothing.

Michael told the men who were working for him that if they tried to leave, he would find them and punish them. That is what happened to one of his workers, George Williams.

In 1997, George left Michael’s house and went to work for another ‘boss’ in Fort Pierce. When Michael found out, he went to get him. He dragged him to his truck and then took him to another one of his houses. There, while one of his associates held George down, he beat him. When he was finished beating George, Michael made him wipe his own blood off the walls.

Michael tried to keep George captive, but he escaped through a window and went to the police to make a complaint. The police began an investigation and, two years later, Michael was charged with enslavement. Shortly after Michael was charged, but before he was convicted, George died of cancer. He was 47.

A few months after he escaped and made his complaint, George, along with some other workers, started a lawsuit against a citrus grower, Beville II. This was the company that owned the fields they had been working on. Before the case was taken to court, the company agreed to a financial settlement with the workers.

Getting this money from the company was an unusual legal victory for the workers. In previous years, several labour bosses had been convicted on enslavement charges in Florida. But no growers had ever been charged with this crime. The growers insisted that the workers who were picking their fruit were not their employees. They said they found it more ‘efficient’ to let labour bosses hire the workers and pay them. When the labour bosses were convicted of enslavement, the growers said they had no idea of what the bosses were doing. Sometimes this has been hard to believe. For example, in one case, Consolidated, one of the biggest growers in the US, continued to do business with two labour bosses even while they were on trial for enslavement.

- information from: St. Petersburg Times, 01.08.16, (Thomas C. Tobin); Palm Beach Post, 01.02.16 (Molly Hennessy-Fiske); The Miami Herald, 03.09.16 (Ronnie Green);