They will have to pay $4,250 in civil money penalties for failing to provide migrant worker housing that meets the safety and health requirements of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
Jensen rents rooms to migrant workers at a building he owns in Holly called the Gateway Motel, where investigators from the division's Denver District Office found overcrowded rooms without beds, windows that did not open, a lack of laundry facilities, a lack of smoke detectors and unsanitary conditions, all in violation of the MSPA. Workers paid Jensen about $25 per week to stay there.
"Profiting at the expense of vulnerable workers is not just inhumane, it's illegal," Chad Frasier, the Wage and Hour Division's district director in Denver, said. "Our agency is committed to upholding wage and hour laws that protect the nation's workers, particularly those who earn the least and are vulnerable. Enforcing regulations prohibiting employers from housing migrant workers in dangerous and unsanitary conditions is a priority for the Wage and Hour Division, and the penalties assessed in this case demonstrate our commitment to holding housing providers accountable."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whole cantaloupe grown at Jensen Farms' production fields in Granada, was identified as the source of a multistate listeria outbreak in 2011 based on collaborative investigations by local, state and federal public health and regulatory agencies.
Jensen had claimed an exemption from the requirements of the MSPA as an innkeeper. Although he said that other people used the motel during the hunting season, the investigation revealed that the facility is not open to the public. Investigators found that it is closed most of the year and has no telephone number for prospective guests to call to reserve a room. Consequently, the exemption was found inapplicable.
"It was closed at the time, and they wanted to rent it," Jensen said. He added that he didn't know he had to verify their employment status.
The epidemic of listeria in cantaloupe last fall was the deadliest outbreak of foodborne illness in 25 years. Thirty people died, 146 people were sickened and one woman suffered a miscarriage after eating the tainted cantaloupe, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Food and Drug Administration said in October that pools of dirty water on a packing facility floor and old, hard-to-clean equipment probably were to blame. Government investigators found several positive samples of listeria bacteria on equipment in the packing facility and on fruit that had been held there. The farm also had stopped using antibacterial washes and did not "pre-cool" cantaloupes off the fields to reduce bacteria growth, the FDA said.
Jensen Farms recalled the cantaloupes in September.
Jensen faces multiple lawsuits related to the outbreak. He has refused to answer questions about the suits.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)