By Shereen Siewert

Two Florida men are facing federal charges in an alleged human smuggling and kidnapping plot involving a Marathon County man, according to a U.S. Dept. of Justice release.

Gerardo Hernandez Anselmo, 34, and Felipe Engracia-Gonzalez, 39, both of Kissimmee, Fla., are charged with kidnapping an individual and holding him for money. The indictment alleges that on June 9, 2022, they transported the victim from Wisconsin to Florida.

As previously reported by Wausau Pilot & Review, the alleged victim in early 2021 came to the U.S. with the assistance of migrant smugglers. Once he was across the border he was taken to Kissimmee, Fla. and put to work in order to pay off a large debt for transporting him across the border, according to court records. Witnesses told police the alleged victim, who is not named in the criminal complaint, worked in construction with most of his wages withheld by the alleged smugglers, forcing him to skip meals due to lack of income. In December, the man became desperate for help and managed to contact a family member in Wisconsin who drove to Florida and picked him up a few blocks from the man’s work site. Then, they drove back to the Abbotsford area.

After the man escaped Florida, investigators say, he began receiving threatening text messages from his “employer,” identified by police as Abasita Engracia-Gonzalez, who said she would find him and make him pay back his debt. Gonzalez also allegedly contacted the man’s mother in Mexico and told her she “would be getting her son returned in pieces,” police say.

Then in June, Abastia’s husband, Felipe Engracia-Gonzalez, drove from Kissimmee to Wisconsin in his Cadillac Escalade, found the man at his workplace in Abbotsford, then forced him into the vehicle and drove back to Florida, police say, with the help of Anselmo. The alleged victim’s phone was found in the median of Hwy. 29.

Relatives contacted police on June 10, one day after the man disappeared. Police say the suspects allowed the man to call his family after arriving back in Florida to tell them he was being held there to work off a debt of more than $11,000. Investigators traced the number to an apartment in Kissimmee, where local police discovered the Escalade and the alleged victim.

Anselmo and Engracia-Gonzalez previously were charged with this offense in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on June 23. 

Anselmo and Engracia-Gonzalez were arrested in Florida and are in federal custody.  A date for their initial appearance in Wisconsin has not been set.  If convicted, Anselmo and Engracia-Gonzalez face a maximum penalty of life in federal prison.  The charge against them is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Marathon County Sheriff’s Office, Colby-Abbotsford Police Department, and the Kissimmee (Florida) Police Department, with assistance from the Marathon County District Attorney’s Office.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman is handling the prosecution.