Scranton, Pa

Human Trafficking Lawsuit Filed in Federal Court Against Mennonite Church

Posted: December 20, 2021

On November 17, 2021 Plaintiffs, D.C. and J.D.M, filed suit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania against Defendants, Martin Nelson, Liberty Ridge Farm, Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church and Related Areas, and Mennonite Messianic Mission of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church (“Liberty Ridge Farm”). D.C. and J.D.M. brought five claims: a violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), federal legislation which provides victims both criminal and civil remedies, for forced labor, a violation of the TVPA for human trafficking, a violation of the Racketeer Influences and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), a violation of Pennsylvania Law against human trafficking, and finally for unjust enrichment.

The following facts are alleged in the Complaint. D.C. and J.D.M. contend that Liberty Ridge, an 80-acre property in Fayette Township, was “. . . a home for Mennonite boys and young adult male members of the [Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church and Related Areas] within Defendants’ Mennonite community who were deemed by Defendants to be “troubled” and to have ‘special spiritual, emotional, and social needs.’” D.C. and J.D.M. were both residents of Liberty Ridge—D.C. was placed at Liberty Ridge from approximately 2011-2014, from ages fourteen to seventeen. J.D.M. was placed at Liberty Ridge in approximately 2019 for ten months, beginning at age eighteen.

D.C. and J.D.M. allege that residents and families were told that “. . . Liberty Ridge ‘is an intense atmosphere for the purpose of effecting social and behavioral changes in the lives of the troubled boys in a structured, closely supervised homelike setting.’” D.C. and J.D.M. assert that all residents and families were charged $2,300 per month to reside at Liberty Ridge. The Complaint states that J.D.M. learned that his family was required to withdraw funds from his bank account, without his permission, to give to the church.

While in residence, youths were allegedly made to provide labor for one of the businesses run at Liberty Ridge by the “main house parent,” who was responsible for supervising all residents. These businesses included farming chickens, cattle, and hogs, building fences, gates, and wooden pallets, and operating a trucking company—however, the complaint asserts that residents were not compensated for any of their labor. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services had no record of any licensing for the facility. According to the Complaint, unless residents were eating, sleeping, studying the Bible, or performing daily exercise, they were working from 6am until sundown every day, except on Sunday. In addition, they were not engaged in schooling while at Liberty Ridge.

According to the Complaint, if any resident did not satisfy expectations related to work or exercise, or if it was determined that residents acted “against the Bible,” the residents allegedly received consequences from the main house parent. These consequences lasted from hours to weeks. These consequences were performed from sun-up to sun-down and included “. . . dragging chains over their shoulders, breaking boulders into tiny pieces by hand with a small hammer, . . . digging out stumps by hand[,]” being physically restrained by “. . . hold[ing] the residents face-down on the ground, restrain[ing] their arms and legs behind the Residents in a hog-tied position, utiliz[ing] zip-ties to restrain the Residents . . .[,]” or tying the residents up and dragging them. According to the Complaint, residents were not allowed to eat until they completed their task or would be put on a restricted diet which included “. . . a limited amount of rice and beans and a restricted amount of water . . . .” Finally, D.C. and J.D.M. contend that they experienced physical and mental abuse by while residing at Liberty Ridge and that they received threats, such as excommunication from the church or their families, if they attempted to leave Liberty Ridge.

According to D.C. and J.D.M’s attorney, Renee Franchi, D.C. and J.D.M filed suit to ensure the farm is closed and that no other young men experience the harm they suffered.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act is federal legislation which provides both civil and criminal relief to survivors of human trafficking. The CSE Institute is encouraged by the impact this litigation could have on the applicability of the TVPA civil cases related to human trafficking. Cases like this help other potential victims to learn about the remedies available under the TVPA. Finally, the CSE Institute supports these survivors who brought suit in federal court and applauds them for their bravery in hopefully exposing Liberty Ridge and holding perpetrators accountable.

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