crimes

FSM’s Bertino Weires, Nesly Mwarecheong plead guilty in Des Moines, Iowa to withholding passports for labor trafficking

Bertino Weires, 51, Nesly Mwarecheong, 46, are citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia. They are also residents of the United States.

In December 2019, Weires and Mwarecheong convinced two young men from the FSM to come to the U.S. by promising the men they could work in the U.S. and send money back to their families. When the men arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, their passports were confiscated by Weires and Mwarecheong.

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In February 2020, Weires and Mwarecheong took the two men to the JBS meat processing plant in Ottumwa Iowa, USA. Weires filled out employment applications for the two men, who did not speak English, had no means of returning to the FSM and had limited education.

Both men were hired and they worked eight-hour shifts, six days a week with weekly pay usually between $800 to $1,000. Every week, Weires and Mwarecheong took the two men to cash their paychecks before seizing almost the entire amount and leaving the men with only $20 per week. 

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In May 2020, one of the two men escaped. In June 2020, he returned with Ottumwa Police Department officers but Weires and Mwarecheong still refused to turn over the man’s passport and Social Security card. 

Police also helped the other man leave. He was placed in a hotel but Mwarecheong and Weires found him there and took his phone, passport, Social Security card and the money he had earned, which was around $4,500.

On October 5, 2022, Weires and Mwarecheong pleaded guilty in federal court in Des Moines, Iowa to two counts of unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of trafficking or forced labor. As part of their plea, they have agreed to pay nearly $70,000 in restitution to the two victims.

Weires and Mwarecheong face a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. On February 15, 2023, they will be sentenced by U.S. District Chief Judge Stephanie M. Rose.

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Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap are the four states of the FSM, which comprise around 607 islands that cover a longitudinal distance of almost 2,700 km just north of the equator. The island country was a part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), was a United Nations trust territory in Micronesia administered by the U.S. from 1947 to 1994.

Born in Pohnpei, David Panuelo, 58, is the ninth and incumbent president of the FSM. He assumed office on May 11, 2019.

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