Meaner Pastures

Life can get wild and woolly for herders who flock to the U.S. under a special law.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch rejected the Department of Labor's request for a preliminary injunction against the Peroulises in October, saying it was too vague, and instead ordered the family to submit a plan demonstrating how they would comply with laws covering H-2A workers in the future. The Peroulises filed a preliminary plan with the court in December, and Christian says the two sides are now in negotiations over a possible settlement. An agreement would likely include detailed, step-by-step instructions about exactly how much food the herders will receive, how their hours will be counted, what can be deducted from their paychecks and other guidelines.

The Moffat County Sheriff's Office investigated the alleged beating of Damian, and the case is still open. However, no charges have been filed.

"It's a hard case for us because the Peroulises are a good family," says Moffat County undersheriff Jerry Hoberg. "Any time you have employees, they may have sour grapes. It's unfortunate it happened, but it's something that needs to be looked into." Hoberg says his office has investigated three other incidents involving the Peroulis family and their employees over the last eight years and that none of those investigations resulted in criminal charges being filed. "Usually the victim is unavailable," says Hoberg. "They go home or get another job. They just don't want to deal with it."

Consul General Carlos Velasco says Peruvians make good sheepherders.
Mark A. Manger
Consul General Carlos Velasco says Peruvians make good sheepherders.

David Waite, chief deputy district attorney for Moffat County, says he couldn't file charges in the Damian case unless the victim was in the country. Even if Damian was here, Waite says, it would be difficult to press charges against the Peroulises: "It would be his word versus theirs. It would be a difficult case to prosecute."

That won't be much comfort to the men who herded sheep for the family.

Celso Bruno, a 32-year-old Peruvian, testified that he had worked for the Peroulis family for ten years before leaving in 1999. He said he had been hit by Louis Peroulis after he began working there, and suffered without adequate food and water when he took the herds into remote desert land. He says he eventually quit working for the Peroulises because he "couldn't take it anymore."

Like most of the other former Peroulis employees who testified, Bruno now works for another local rancher and says he is treated well.

So why, asked an attorney at the October hearing, did he work at the Peroulis ranch for so long?

"I wanted to work and look out for my family," he told the court. "I had to support my family in Peru. We are a big family -- twelve brothers and sisters and my father and my wife."

Why didn't he try to find another job?

"Because I didn't know. I thought here in the United States all the ranchers would treat you the same."

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