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OGDEN — An Arizona man accused of hiring Mexican immigrants to work for his traveling amusement park and then holding on to their passports and work visas so they couldn't leave, has been arrested by the Utah Attorney General's Office for investigation of labor trafficking.
Jordan Nathaniel Jensen, 31, was booked into the Weber County Jail on Thursday and charged Friday in 2nd District Court with three counts of human trafficking, a second-degree felony; and nine counts of possession of another person's ID documents, a third-degree felony.
The investigation began earlier in the week when the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City contacted the Asian Association of Utah, a service agency for refugees, about possible labor trafficking, according to a police affidavit.
Two men told investigators that while living in Mexico, they were hired by a company called Midway West Amusement.
"The company is a traveling carnival entertainment company, which travels to many states in this country providing games and rides," the affidavit states.
The company is owned and operated by Jensen and two relatives, all from Arizona, according to the affidavit.
Midway arranged to get seasonal work visas for all of the Mexican workers they hired prior to them coming to the United States, the affidavit states. The two men interviewed by Utah authorities stated they were paid $400 per week, the affidavit states.
The men said that Midway "kept their passports, which contained their visas attached to one of its pages. At first, they thought it was a normal procedure among American companies," according to the affidavit. "Jordan Jensen explained to (one of the men) he kept their passports because he did not want anyone to escape."
After a week of working, the two men believed their agreement with Midway was not being fulfilled.
"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 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," according to the affidavit. "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 men also reported "hostile" working conditions and told investigators, "in particular Jordan Jensen would constantly threaten to send them back to Mexico if they did not perform their job well," the affidavit states.
Once the two men decided that their job "was inhumane, and unbearable to some extent," they informed Jensen of their intention to leave. But Jensen told the men he would not give them their last payment or their passports until they were back in Mexico, according to the affidavit. The men quit anyway.
"The next day, they contacted the Mexican Consulate and reported the incident. The Mexican Consulate contacted AAU, who reported the incident to the Utah Attorney General's Office," the affidavit states.
On June 30, Midway West Amusement set up at Newgate Mall, 3651 W. Wall Ave. in Ogden. Investigators sent one of the men who had contacted them back to the carnival with a hidden mic and camera that was able to livestream video, according to the affidavit. The investigator watched as the man approached Jensen and asked for payment and his passport, which Jensen refused, according to the affidavit.
"Jordan Jensen instead told (the man) he would buy him a plane ticket back to Mexico. Jordan Jensen stated that once (the man) had boarded the plane, then (he) would give him his passport back. He also stated that after (the man) arrived in Mexico, he would pay him for this last week of work," the affidavit states.
The investigator wrote in the affidavit "that keeping documents away from victims is a common tactic used by traffickers, who wish to control their victims by not allowing them to leave.
"Traffickers understand that foreign nationals who have been granted H2A visas are more suitable to be exploited by working long hours, living in inhumane conditions, and getting paid lower wages; all due to the fact that foreign workers are usually uneducated about their rights, have a language barrier and come from humble lives."
On Thursday, the attorney general's office served a search warrant on the trailer where the passports of all the amusement park's workers were allegedly being held. Nine passports of current and former workers were seized, including three that were being held even though the victims had asked for them back, according to the affidavit.
Jensen was arrested.
"This is an ongoing investigation, which might yield additional suspects," the affidavit states.