LOCAL NEWS

Traveling Carnival Owner Arrested In Ogden For Alleged Labor Trafficking

Jul 2, 2021, 8:46 PM | Updated: 11:09 pm

OGDEN, Utah — An Arizona man, who owns and operates a traveling carnival, has been arrested by the Utah Attorney General’s Office for allegedly hiring workers from Mexico and then holding on to their passports and work visas so they couldn’t escape.

Jordan Nathaniel Jensen, 31, was charged Friday in 2nd District Court with three counts of human trafficking, a second-degree felony, and nine counts of possession of another’s identity documents, a third-degree felony.

Around June 29, the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City contacted the Asian Association of Utah (AAU), a service agency for refugees and immigrants, about possible labor trafficking in Ogden, according to a police affidavit.

Two possible victims were then interviewed.

“These victims also reported there are currently other victims experiencing the same exploitation,” stated the affidavit. 

The men told investigators they were hired by a company called Midway West Amusement while they were living in Mexico.

“The company is a traveling carnival entertainment company, which travels to many states in this country providing games and rides,” read the affidavit.

According to public records, the company is owned and operated by Jensen and two of his relatives who all live in Arizona. 

Midway West Amusement arranged to get seasonal work visas for all of the workers from Mexico, prior to their arrival in the United States, the affidavit stated.

In May 2021, the two workers who were interviewed arrived in the U.S. and began working for the company. They told investigators they were expected to work normal hours, but were only paid $400 a week, according to the affidavit.

“They have reported no one from Midway West Amusement asked them to sign any contract or other documents,” the document stated.

The two said Midway “kept their passports, which contained their visas attached to one of its pages. At first, they thought it was a normal procedure among American companies. After speaking with other peers, (the men) learned that Midway West Amusement possessed all of the passports and visas for their foreign workers under the H2A program inside of their office,” read the affidavit.

The men reported Jensen was the one who collected the workers’ passports.

“Jordan Jensen explained to him he kept their passports because he did not want anyone to escape,” one worker told investigators, according to the affidavit. “Jordan also advised he had the right to keep the passports according to a contract his company had signed with the U.S. government.”

The victims reported to Utah authorities that all of Midway West Amusement’s employees are foreign nationals with H2A visas, the affidavit stated, with one of them adding that he heard Jensen say “they prefer foreign workers and avoid hiring American workers.”

After a week of working for Midway West Amusement, the two men believed their verbal agreement with the company was not being fulfilled.

“The victims reported they worked extremely long hours (approximately 70 hours a week) without water or meal breaks. They lived in a confined space inside of mobile trailer, without running water, electricity, air conditioning, etc. Some trailers contained a bed, some did not. The victims reported they had no kitchen to cook a meal. Both victims reported they were not allowed to leave their working area. Many times the owners of the business would not give them water or allow them to take a water break for an entire shift, therefore at the end of a shift they were extremely hungry and thirsty,” read the affidavit.

The men also said they were subjected to “hostile working conditions,” according to the affidavit, adding that Jensen “would constantly threaten to send them back to Mexico if they did not perform their job well.”

“The victims reported once they realized the job was inhumane, and unbearable to some extent, they decided to leave their employment and cease relations with Midway West Amusement,” the document read.

When the two workers told Jensen they wanted to leave, Jensen said he would not pay them for their last week of work or return their passports until they were back in Mexico.

The men still decided to quit.

“The next day, they contacted the Mexican Consulate and reported the incident. The Mexican Consulate contacted AAU, who reported the incident to the Utah Attorney Genera’s Office,” the affidavit stated.

An investigation was then opened.

On June 30, one of the men was sent back to the staging area of Midway West Amusement at Newgate Mall, located at 3651 Wall Avenue in Ogden, equipped with a video and audio recording device, as well as a live stream audio device, according to the affidavit.

Investigators were able to watch as the worker approached Jensen and asked for his passport and last week of pay, but Jensen refused, the affidavit stated.

“Jordan Jensen instead told (the man) he would buy him a plane ticket back to Mexico. Jordan Jensen stated that once (the man) had boarded the plane, then (he) would give him his passport back. He also stated that after (the man) arrived in Mexico, he would pay him for this last week of work,” read the affidavit.

The investigator wrote in the affidavit that he and the victims believe that Jensen and Midway West Amusement kept the documents of their employees to control them.

“Keeping documents away from victims is a common tactic used by traffickers, who wish to control their victims by not allowing them to leave,” the investigator stated in the affidavit.

According to Utah Annotate Code 76-5-308; “An actor commits human trafficking for labor” by “destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating, or possessing any passport, immigration document, or other government-issued identification document.”

“Jordan Jensen violated the human trafficking statute by confiscating their passports and visas and refusing to return them. This conduct, in addition to a refusal to pay,” the affidavit stated.

Investigators believe the documents are being stored inside a mobile office in the parking lot of Newgate Mall in Ogden, according to the affidavit.

On July 1, a search warrant was served on the mobile officer trailer by the attorney general’s office.

“Upon search, nine passports from current and past employees were located. Three of these passports had been denied to their owners (victims) after they had asked for them back. Therefore, agents learned the person in charge of the passports at the moment was identified as Jordan Nathaniel Jensen. Mr. Jensen also had been the person who denied returning the passports,” read the affidavit.

Jensen was arrested.

“This is an ongoing investigation, which might yield additional suspects,” the affidavit stated.

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Traveling Carnival Owner Arrested In Ogden For Alleged Labor Trafficking