Prosecutors: Ruiz-Hernandez should remain in custody

In response to a motion to release islander Jesus Ruiz-Hernandez from jail, prosecutors have revealed new details about their case against him.

Federal prosecutors allege longtime Vashon landscaper Jesus Ruiz-Hernandez tampered with witnesses, told employees to lie to police and continued exploiting their labor even after he’d been arrested in November on suspicion of illegally transporting an adult to the U.S., according to recently-filed court records in his case.

“Even after being indicted … in November 2022, he brazenly continued to harbor multiple undocumented employees for the benefit of his business,” prosecutors wrote. “He also continued to collect debt payments for coyote crossings from several of his employees and exploited their labor by not paying them their full wages and requiring them to do additional work at his home for free.”

The new information comes from an Aug. 8 reply by prosecutors to a motion by Ruiz-Hernandez, who is asking to be released from jail and kept under house arrest while awaiting his trial, currently scheduled for Oct. 10. The Beachcomber reported earlier this month on Ruiz-Hendandez’ request.

A judge had not yet ruled on that matter by press time. The Beachcomber has regularly reached out to Ruiz-Hernandez’ attorney for comment.

Ruiz-Hernandez was initially arrested on Nov. 15 last year and released on bond. He was arrested again on March 30, based on new information prosecutors received about his alleged harboring and exploitation of victims in the case. That played out as a dramatic, early-morning law-enforcement raid on his Maury Island home and a nearby residence, which prosecutors suspect he had rented out to some of his landscaping workers.

He has been held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, and a judge on July 18 ordered him to continue his detention.

Ruiz-Hernandez has been indicted by federal grand juries on 23 felony charges altogether — the first three last November, seven more in March, and 13 more in July. He has entered not guilty pleas against each.

Ruiz-Hernandez “is charged with exploiting – and, in two cases, labor trafficking – multiple vulnerable persons for his own financial benefit over a period of almost five years,” according to prosecutors.

The charges against him include forced labor — that he coerced two undocumented immigrants to work for his landscaping business, and sexually assaulted one of those victims. Other charges involve smuggling undocumented immigrants into the U.S. or harboring or transporting them within the country — all for financial gain — and conspiring to illegally launder the proceeds of those unlawful acts through his business and other purchases.

He also faces a single count of unlawful possession of 50 rounds of 9mm ammunition.

According to newly-filed documents by prosecutors, five men who said they worked for Ruiz-Hernandez said they did not have legal status in the country, and that Ruiz-Hernandez charged them rent to live at a property. Two of them also said Ruiz-Hernandez helped arrange their travel across the border and that they owed him a debt for the cost of that travel.

Ruiz-Hernandez convinced one victim to cross the border in 2017 with the help of a “coyote,” informing her upon arrival that she had to work for him at his landscaping company and owed him a debt for the coyote fee along with living costs, according to prosecutors.

After a single payment of $600 in her first week of work, Ruiz-Hernandez took all of her earnings going forward as payment for household expenses and the coyote debt, prosecutors say. She eventually agreed to another job at a business on the island to pay off her debt sooner, with the caveat that she would turn all her checks over to Ruiz-Hernandez’ family members who also worked at the business.

According to court documents, the victim also said Ruiz-Hernandez sexually assaulted her, and that she was frightened and felt obligated to him because he controlled access to her children, who were living with his parents in Mexico.

Even after a co-worker helped her leave Ruiz-Hernandez’ home and obtain a new job, the victim said Ruiz-Hernandez and his family threatened her and told her she still owed Ruiz-Hernandez money.