Farm Housing Mennonite Boys Engaged in Human Trafficking, Lawsuit Says

Farm Housing Mennonite Boys Engaged in Human Trafficking, Lawsuit Says

The other man arrived at the farm in 2019 and spent 10 months there, according to the lawsuit, which identified him by the initials J.D.M., and as a Missouri resident.

The suit did not elaborate on why the two plaintiffs were placed at the farm.

Many of the boys who lived at the 80-acre farm — which included chicken houses, cattle and hog buildings, and a shop for making wooden pallets — did not receive any schooling, the lawsuit said.

Residents or their families were required to pay $2,300 a month to attend Liberty Ridge, which served “troubled” boys who had “special spiritual, emotional, and social needs,” the lawsuit said, citing a church publication. Mentors accompanied each of the boys all the time, including while they were sleeping, the lawsuit said.

The Eastern Pennsylvania Mennonite Church could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Attempts were made to contact church leaders through the Mennonite Heritage Center, an organization devoted to telling the story of Mennonite faith and life in eastern Pennsylvania, and through the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. A message was also left for a local church deacon.

The farm and its owner, identified in the lawsuit as Martin Nelson, were also named as defendants. Neither of them responded to a request for comment on Monday. Court records did not list lawyers for the defendants. The lawsuit was reported earlier by The Morning Call in Allentown.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which regulates facilities like the farm, said the agency is investigating the allegations.

“Facilities are expected to come to D.H.S. for applying for licenses and other necessary permissions before providing services,” said the spokesman, Brandon Cwalina. “D.H.S. has no record of inquiry or application for licensure by this facility, and we are currently assessing whether the services/programming at Liberty Ridge Farm are required to be licensed by state law.”

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