A 22-year-old man who was swept up in a plot to harbor immigrants in the O'Neill area — allegedly orchestrated by his stepfather, who ran two staffing companies — entered a plea Tuesday in an indictment against him.
Antonio De Jesus Castro pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and faces up to 10 years in federal prison when he's sentenced in March.
In exchange, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods dismissed a second count and agreed not to prosecute De Jesus Castro for immigration, fraud, money laundering or other crimes uncovered by investigators.
She said the plot went on from 2015 until the July raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and involved more than 100 illegal immigrants.
Woods said De Jesus Castro's stepfather, Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, asked him to run his business, JP and Sons, when he went to hide out in Las Vegas.
"I didn't think I was doing anything wrong giving people jobs," De Jesus Castro told U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart at Tuesday's hearing.
But he acknowledged he knew the people he was helping get agricultural jobs were in the country illegally.
His attorney, Korey Reiman, said De Jesus Castro didn't exactly know what was going on and was made a patsy after his stepfather took off when it looked as if investigators were closing in on him.
"He got placed in a heck of a position," Reiman said.
So far, 18 people and two businesses — JP and Sons and J Green Valley — have been indicted in connection to the August raid.
The government alleges the businesses supplied Elkhorn River Farms, O'Neill Ventures, GJW LLC in Ainsworth and others with workers without verifying their identities or completing the required paperwork, and used different names and Social Security numbers to hide the workers were in the country illegally.
Some of the indicted were born here, some are lawful residents and some, such as Sanchez Delgado, had been removed from the country before.
Woods said Sanchez Delgado set up staffing companies in order to employ aliens unlawfully in Nebraska and Minnesota.
So far, two people have entered pleas in the case: De Jesus Castro on Tuesday and Lillian Ajin last month.
Ajin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens and is set for sentencing in February.
At a hearing in November, Woods said Ajin's husband, one of those employed, was prosecuted for illegal re-entry last year and spoke in recorded jail calls about not snitching about what Sanchez Delgado was doing and helping another man get a job with him.
Woods said someone ultimately came forward to the Holt County Sheriff's Office to report that Ajin stole his identity while helping him fill out paperwork at the local hospital.