The lawsuit alleges that a chapter of the Mennonite Church sent “troubled” boys and young adults to Liberty Ridge Farms, where they were abused and forced to perform hard labor.
A federal lawsuit accuses a Pennsylvania chapter of the Mennonite Church of violating human trafficking laws by forcing young boys to perform intensive physical labor.
According to PennLive.com, the lawsuit was filed by two men who are former residents of Liberty Ridge Farms.
Liberty Ridge Farms, notes PennLive.com, is an estate in southeast Pennsylvania owned by Nelson Martin.
The farm allegedly plays a role in a “reform” program run by the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church.
The two male plaintiffs say that boys and young men who the church believe are “troubled” or have “special needs” are sent to Liberty Ridge for “reform.” On the farm, they are subjected to forced labor: working with poultry and livestock, building fences, and helping run a trucking company.
Both men say they spent between 10 months and three years at Liberty Ridge; while there, they were required to work at least eight hours per day, and were only allowed to take rest on Sundays.
Aside from being coerced into performing physical labor, Liberty Ridge residents claim they were harshly disciplined whenever they “acted against the Bible.” Supervisors would withhold meals from the residents, or would have their diets restricted to rice and beans. Sometimes, they would be ordered to perform physically intensive tasks, like dragging chains or breaking boulders using nothing but a hammer.
“If the residents did not do what the house parent or mentors told them to do, did not perform their work to the satisfaction of the house parent or mentors, did not work hard enough, did not perform their exercises, or run fast enough, or were deemed to have acted ‘against the Bible,’ the residents would receive ‘consequences,’” the lawsuit alleges.
“Most times, consequences were performed from sun-up to sun-down each day,” it adds.
Liberty Ridge supervisors also purportedly employed intimidation tactics to ensure compliance: residents would be physically restrained and have their hands bound with zip-ties.
Once residents were under control, Liberty Ridge managers would verbally abuse incoming boys, telling them that if they tried to run away, they would be excommunicated from the church and banished by their own families.
While residents were not compensated for their work, their families paid up to $2,300 per month for their participation in the “reform” program.
Now, the two former Liberty Ridge residents are asking the courts to provide recompense, including punitive damages and back-pay for their work.
The lawsuit alleges that Liberty Ridge Farms violated the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the Racketeering in Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and a state-level law against human trafficking.
Attorney Renee Franchi, who is representing the two men, said she believes there are likely many other men and young boys who were abused at the farm.
Franchi also said that at least one of her clients received threats after going public with accusations of abuse.
“There have been threats made by members of the church to at least one person involved in this case,” she said.