Utah landscaping company executives charged in ‘appalling’ labor trafficking case

The owner, his wife and five company executives were charged last week.

(Fox 13 News) Agents with the Utah attorney general's office investigate at the corporate offices of Utah landscaping company Rubicon Contractors LLC, which they say trafficked Mexican laborers in an "appalling" case, in this screenshot of Fox 13 News coverage. The Salt Lake Tribune and Fox 13 News are content-sharing partners.

Para leer este artículo en español, haz clic aquí.

The Utah attorney general’s office has filed charges against a West Bountiful business owner and multiple executives who investigators say hired more than 100 Mexican laborers and forced them to work and live in inhumane conditions under threat of deportation.

State investigators announced the “appalling” case last week against Rubicon Contractors LLC after arresting three executives — Clayton Phillips, Tyler Brinkman and Adam Perea. They were charged Friday along with owner Rudy Larsen, his wife Jena Marie and two other executives — Brandon Floyd and Kirk Simmons, court records show.

The landscaping and snow removal company hired Mexican laborers using temporary H-2B visas, offering them full-time work for about $20 an hour, charging documents state. But once hired, the company bombarded workers with additional fees, investigators say, making it hard for workers to pay their bills and buy necessities.

‘Frightening’ living and working conditions

The workers were also required to live in unfurnished, company-provided housing, and about $300 in rent was deducted from their paychecks every two weeks, charging documents state. In at least one instance, a house didn’t have hot water or heat during the winter, and men were sleeping on piles of clothing or in a company truck to stay warm, investigators say.

The workers also had to buy cellphones from the company to log work hours on a mobile application, and they were forced to pay for their own equipment, as well as cover repairs if equipment broke, charging documents state. If an executive quoted that a job would take 10 hours but it actually took 13, workers would not be paid for the the three extra hours of work, the documents add.

Workers sometimes shoveled snow in tennis shoes, and during peak snow season were often told to sleep in their trucks so they could respond quickly to calls, the documents state.

“The expectation of work hours for certain times was ‘frightening’ as workers would operate on 1-3 hours of sleep,” one employee told investigators, according to charging documents.

The workers were also not properly trained in U.S. traffic laws or formally taught how to operate the machinery they used for work, the documents state. One employee told investigators about a man who drove a Rubicon truck on Interstate 15 from Bountiful to Spanish Fork and “never left the righthand lane,” taking every exit ramp and on-ramp the entire drive, investigators wrote.

Larsen would also regularly threaten to have employees deported for relatively minor issues, one worker told investigators.

In one confrontation, Larsen told Phillips and Floyd to force an employee who had asked to file a workers’ compensation claim to clean toilets all day or be fired, a worker said. The three all “laughed about it in a meeting and called the worker in question ‘weak,’” investigators wrote.

In another confrontation described in charging documents, Larsen got upset, pulled down his own pants, grabbed his genitals, told employees, “If anyone has a problem with how I run this company,” and allegedly concluded with a crude suggestion.

The new documents also outline the structure of Larsen’s companies, including SCANDIA, Rubicon, Park Place Auto Club and Smart Rain, an irrigation business. The documents allege Larsen created separate companies “for the sole purpose of shuffling VISA workers around for RUBICON, allowing them to extend worker VISAs,” investigators wrote.

Rubicon denies allegations

Larsen is facing seven first-degree felony counts of aggravated human trafficking, one second-degree felony count of pattern of unlawful activity, and one second-degree felony count of money laundering.

The other executives are each facing seven counts of aggravated human trafficking. Brinkman, Perea and Simmons each were also charged with one count of pattern of unlawful activity.

Attorneys Skye Lazaro and Jamie Thomas, who are representing Rubicon on behalf of the Ray Quinney & Nebeker law firm, said in a statement released last week that the company “denies any wrongdoing and has complied in good faith with all applicable laws.”

“Rubicon is cooperating with the investigation and believes it will ultimately be vindicated,” the statement read.

In a statement, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said that these arrests prove “how broadly this type of crime plagues Utah” and why he says he has prioritized combating human trafficking while in office.

The attorney general has recently come under scrutiny for his decadelong friendship with Tim Ballard, founder of the anti-child-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad.

Ballard was ousted from the nonprofit last summer after allegations of sexual misconduct. He is now facing multiple lawsuits, and Lindon police are criminally investigating him for sexual abuse. Ballard has denied the allegations.