DENVER -- An appeals court ruled on Wednesday that a Rocky Ford businessman is on the hook for $330,000 because a jury decided he and his wife forced her Filipino relatives to work for little or no pay for three years.
The 2018 verdict was against William and Leonida Sackett, who operated Sackett Farm Market, rental properties and a farm.
The verdict in Denver at the U.S. District Court for Colorado was in favor of three members of her family. They alleged that the Sackett's held them in debt bondage and compelled them to work.
The Sacketts denied the allegations in the family members' lawsuit, but jurors concluded otherwise.
The Sacketts appealed the verdict, but the federal appeals court in Denver decided Wednesday that the verdict stands.
The $330,000 is what jurors determined the Sacketts owe her brother Esmeraldo Echon Jr., his wife Maribel, and their son, Justin for, among other things, unpaid wages, as well as to punish the Sacketts. Leonida Sackett was born in the Phillipines.
Those family members alleged in their 2014 lawsuit that the Sacketts threatened to have them deported if they didn’t work for the Sacketts.
Documents in the court case stated the Echons came to the United States, beginning in 2011, when Leonida Sackett sponsored them to obtain status as legal residents.
Attorneys for the Echons said it was the first trial in Colorado of a lawsuit, under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, of human trafficking. They were represented by attorneys of Colorado Legal Services, a nonprofit agency that provides legal aid to low-income persons and senior citizens.
The lawsuit alleged that soon after her brother arrived, Ms. Sackett “informed him that he owed her a large amount of money for the support she had given him in the Philippines” and for (immigration) expenses. She allegedly told him “he would have to work this debt off by providing her and husband with free labor.”
In disputing the allegations, William Sackett wrote by hand in a 21-page court filing that “the Echon family was never asked to work, taken to work, gave (sic) a job never had a job nor were they employed by the Sackett family at any time.”
“I did support them with a home of five bedrooms, all utilities paid by the Sackett family, sent two sons to school, supported their mother and father .”
He also asserts that he paid many thousands of dollars for numerous other things to help the Echons financially and in other ways to better their lives.
“They did some work,” Sackett told jurors in closing arguments in 2018 “I didn't employ them."
Rather than hiring an attorney to represent them, William Sackett, 79, served as the attorney for his wife and himself.
On appeal, he claimed they are functionally illiterate. In Wednesday's 13-page decision, judges of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Sacketts had the financial means to hire an attorney and William Sackett had shown legal competency during the course of the litigation.