Lawsuit Says ‘Troubled’ Mennonite Boys Were Trafficked, Forced Into Physical Labor, and Abused at a Pennsylvania Farm

Since at least 2011, parents of wayward Mennonite boys and young men sent their sons to Liberty Ridge Farm in McAlisterville, Pa., where they would receive spiritual guidance, structure, and a “closely supervised homelike setting,” according to court documents. Parents were told their sons would leave reformed members of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church.

But two former Liberty Ridge residents claim the facility was abusive. In a lawsuit filed against the farm and the church on Nov. 17 in federal court, the men allege the farm used them in a human-trafficking plot, where boys were subjected to forced labor with no compensation while being physically and emotionally tormented and deprived of food and education.

Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday night. Martin Nelson, a named defendant who owns Liberty Ridge Farm, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday. Attorneys for the farm and church were not listed in court documents.

Renee Franchi, one of their attorneys for the plaintiffs — identified in the lawsuit only as D.C. and J.D.M. — said other potential victims are urged to contact her office, according to a statement to the Washington Post.

“We have heard from other former residents as well as witnesses, and believe there to be more,” Franchi said.

The lawsuit is the latest allegation of abuse of power by a religious leader. Earlier this month, the founder of a Filipino megachurch was arrested and charged with orchestrating a sex-trafficking operation. According to federal prosecutors, Apollo Carreon Quiboloy and his accomplices told victims forced to engage in sexual acts that their obedience was “God’s will.” Quiboloy’s lawyer has denied the allegations. In October, eight leaders of a Nation of Islam offshoot in Kansas that has been labeled a “cult” were arrested for allegedly separating children from their families, housing them in poor conditions, and forcing them into labor without pay.

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Source: Inquirer