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Utah County Commission hopeful is charged in human trafficking case

A screen grab from Dusty Roche’s Facebook page in which he announces he’s running for Box Elder County Commission. He faces a felony charge of aggravated human trafficking stemming from the alleged treatment of a Mexican worker at his family’s ranch. | Facebook via KSL.com
BRIGHAM CITY, Utah (KSL.com) — A Tremonton rancher who is running for a Box Elder County Commission seat is facing a felony charge of human trafficking, accusing him of disturbing mistreatment of one of his workers, a Mexican national.
Dusty “Hootie” Roche, 41, is charged with aggravated human trafficking, a first-degree felony, in connection with the alleged treatment in 2019 of a male worker employed at his family’s Box Elder County ranch. The worker, identified in court papers as A.S., traveled to Utah to work for Roche Ranches Inc. under an H-2A visa, which allows U.S. employers to bring in foreign nationals to fill temporary agriculture jobs.
Among many other things, the charging documents say Roche Ranches treated A.S. abusively, housed him in a dirty, dilapidated mobile home/trailer without running water and didn’t provide him with timely deliveries of food. Roche’s brother Justin Roche and his father Jeffrey Roche — all three are principals in the ranching operation — also each face an identical human trafficking charge.
“As a result of the poor conditions, A.S. was regularly working very long hours while cold, wet and undernourished with little energy. A.S. reported most work days began at 5 a.m. and continued until 8 p.m., often without a lunch break,” read the charges filed last year by the Utah Attorney General’s Office in 1st District Court.
Prosecutors also describe the Roche Ranches operators as dismissive of A.S.’s complaints after he was bucked from a horse and stepped on several times while working, suffering a fractured orbital socket, among other things. “A.S.’s condition deteriorated without surgical intervention or medication. A.S. was unable to chew due to pain and increasing pressure in his head and face, leading to weight loss and severe fatigue. The bleeding in his injured eye socket never fully stopped,” the charges allege.
Dusty Roche, one of seven hopefuls vying for Seat C on the Box Elder County Commission, didn’t delve into specifics about the criminal case on the advice of his attorney, but told KSL.com he’s been “falsely accused.” A preliminary hearing in his case is set for March 19.
“We’ll let the judicial system play out and we’ll be exonerated and the charges will all be dropped for what we’re doing. But it’s really hard in-between,” he said Thursday.
Garland-based Roche Ranches relies on foreign labor recruited via the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ H-2A program and Roche defended the operation’s treatment of workers brought in over the years, some of them from Peru. “Our Peruvians are the hardest-working people on earth. I’d die for them and they know it,” he said. “Our ranch is 60 years old and if we didn’t do a good job, I don’t think we’d have workers. We’ve changed hundreds of peoples’ lives for the better and now we’re getting condemned for it.”
In addressing his candidacy for a Box Elder County Commission seat earlier this month in a public Facebook post, Dusty Roche, a Republican, said he has lived his whole life in the area. GOPer Stan Summers is the incumbent in the post and another of the seven hopefuls. “I am someone you can trust, I am someone that has family values, and I am someone that has a history of getting the job done,” Roche posted.
He said he hopes members of the public are able to see through what he views as false charges. “My reputation speaks for itself, what I’ve done and accomplished with financial companies, what I do locally with county and local charity work,” he said, referencing his varied professional and charitable pursuits. “People can decide for themselves.”
In 2021, the Utah Attorney General’s Office received a tip about Roche Ranches, when the investigation started. A.S. was hired as a sheep herder for the company. The ranch has “1,500 head of cow/calf pairs and 5,000 head of sheep on both public and private lands consisting close to a million acres” in Nevada, Idaho, Arizona and Utah, according to its website.
The trailer where A.S. was housed sat on a remote part of the ranch and had “rat excrement on the floors,” a bathtub containing “animal parts and animal excrement,” a leaking roof and no working refrigerator or water system, the charging documents state. A.S. alleged he was not paid regularly and that he was treated poorly once he reported the issue to the staffing agency he had obtained his job through.
The charges say Dusty Roche and Justin Roche would “often make remarks about A.S. and others being ‘stupid (expletive) Mexicans’ and other derogatory comments about the intellect of their workers who were Mexican nationals,” and said he lived in “constant fear” after he was hit, kicked, yelled at and called names.
The encounter with the horse occurred in September 2019. The worker was allegedly bucked off the animal and trampled, leaving him with a broken orbital socket and other injuries. Upon returning to the ranch after an initial round of treatment, the Roches made him return to work and A.S. acquiesced “out of fear” despite the pain he felt, the charges say, adding that when he asked for medication prescribed by the doctor he was told he did not need it.
A.S. later had to call law enforcement for transport to a hospital for follow-up treatment after Justin Roche told him “he was not authorized to leave the ranch” and “would go back to Mexico with nothing if he went through with the surgery,” according to state prosecutors.
“A.S.’s injuries required multiple surgeries, follow-up care, physical therapy, and pain management,” the court documents state.
Dusty Roche said the descriptions in the charging documents don’t coincide with how he views ranch employees and how they’re treated. “We’d be nothing without them because they’re so good with the livestock. … These guys are just the salt of the Earth,” he said.
In a separate case, the Utah Attorney General’s Office in November filed aggravated human trafficking charges against several executives from Rubicon, a Bountiful-based general contracting firm, accusing the company of mistreating temporary workers recruited from Mexico. The company has denied the allegations.
The post Utah County Commission hopeful is charged in human trafficking case appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

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