Department of Human Services discovers that the Mennonite Church trafficks children for the use of forced labor.

Two men that now live in New Jersey and in Missouri filed a lawsuit against Liberty Ridge Farms, a youth program for “troubled boys” in Juanita County, Pennsylvania that is owned by Nelson Martin and operates as the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church.

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The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services finally looked into the now-grown men’s cases and discovered that Liberty Ridge Farm doesn’t have a license on record. Go figure. The traffickers that profit from the forced child labor have been operating since 2011 and the state is just now noticing it because someone was finally able to successfully file a lawsuit! That says a lot about the Department of Human Services and the judicial system. The attorney representing the men, Renee Franchi, says that “it’s possible more people who were subjected to the same abuses may join the lawsuit or file suits of their own.

“We believe it is likely that were many boys and now men who were there and we strongly encourage them to come forward,” Franchi said that her clients were pressured not to file the suit and she believes that others would likely experience the same. “There have been threats made by members of the church, to at least one person involved in this case,” she said.

Families of the boys were told that Liberty Ridge is church that could help parents meet the “special spiritual, emotional, and social needs of the troubled boys”. The lawsuit states that the residents and their families are told that Liberty Ridge “is an intense spiritual atmosphere for the purpose of effecting social and behavioral changes in the lives of the troubled boys in a structured, closely supervised homelike setting”. The resident’s families would then be charged “approximately $2,300.00 per month for their children to attend Liberty Ridge.

The two men identified by their initials as D.C., an adult residing in New Jersey, and J.D.M. an adult residing in Missouri say in the lawsuit that they were abused and forced to work six days a week “farming chickens, cattle, hogs, building fences, gates, and wooden pallets, and a trucking company utilizing the unpaid labor of the Residents”.

“The general schedule at Liberty Ridge was that unless the residents were eating their meals, sleeping, studying the Bible, or performing their daily exercise, they were performing labor at Liberty Ridge. Most days, the Residents woke up at or before 6:00 AM, performed labor (or, when relevant, their consequences) from approximately 8:00 AM through 12:00 PM, then again from approximately 1:30 PM until 6:00 PM, and often again from 7:00 PM until sun-down depending on the time of the year and when the sun went down”.

The men claim that the “House Parent” supervised their work and that many of the school-aged residents were not engaged in any schooling while at Liberty Ridge. “Mentors”, who are young adult males “in good standing” with the Mennonite community were required to boys all day and night, and at all times, including when they were sleeping.

“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.”’

Consequences were performed from sun-up to sun-down each day and would last from hours, to days, to weeks, depending on for how long the boys were to be punished and included “sometimes not being allowed to eat, restrictive diets, and restricted amounts of water, dragging chains over their shoulders, breaking boulders into tiny pieces by hand with a small hammer, and digging out stumps by hand”.

Other times, the now men say that the “mentors would physically restrain them by holding them face-down on the ground, restraining their arms and legs behind them in a hog-tied position, utilizing zip-ties. Sometimes the boys were tied and “dragged”.

The men are suing for both physical and mental abuse suffered while they were at the Liberty Ridge facility. They say that they were not only physically abused and used for labor, but that they were also “threatened with legal consequences and being excommunicated from the Church, and excommunicated from their families if they attempted to leave, or even just spoke of leaving, Liberty Ridge”.

Besides being physically abused and forced to work without compensation, “J.D.M. was told by the Church that he would not be required to pay Liberty Ridge during his placement, however, upon escaping his placement from Liberty Ridge, J.D.M. learned that the Church required J.D.M.’s family to surreptitiously take all of the money saved in J.D.M.’s bank account and give it to the Church without J.D.M.’s permission. J.D.M. was physically restrained by Defendants.”

Martin Nelson, Liberty Ridge  Farm, Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church and related areas, and Mennonite Messianic Mission of Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church are accused of forcing labor, two human trafficking violations, RICO violations, and unjust enrichment because they “knowingly benefitted financially by any means necessary”:

Violation of the TVPA for Forced Labor 18 U.S.C. § 1589

Violation of the TVPA for Human Trafficking 18 U.S.C. § 1590

Violation of RICO 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 et seq.

Violation of the Pennsylvania Law against Human Trafficking 18 Pa.C.S. § 301n

Unjust Enrichment

Minding Hearts is building advocacy and peer support groups in each state.  The groups are created to raise awareness, educate, and advocate for those that might not otherwise be heard. We are here for encouragement, education, and support. We cannot give legal advice, but we can try and direct you in the right direction with your case. Links to legal services are listed with their states. Please share and let’s grow our groups. We are here to support families and develop resources that maintain family integrity. We look forward to your support. If you would rather become active by donating, then visit the donation page.

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