Georgia Tree Company Supervisor Pleads Guilty in Murder of Whistleblowing Worker

March 30, 2022

A man who helped supply undocumented and uninsured immigrant labor to a tree removal company in Georgia has pleaded guilty to aiding in the 2017 murder of a worker who tried to blow the whistle on the practices.

Federal prosecutors said this week that Pablo Rangel-Rubio, 53, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, had been charged with harboring illegal immigrants, money laundering, and retaliating against a witness. Eliud Montoya was gunned down outside his Georgia home five years ago, just days after he reported his bosses for exploiting immigrants and avoiding workers’ compensation insurance on them.

“Pablo Rangel-Rubio was responsible for employing at least 100 illegal aliens to work for a tree service, skimming from their paychecks to further fatten his wallet, and then helping arrange the murder of a man who exposed the scheme,” David Estes, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, said in a statement. “The substantial prison sentence from this plea will hold him accountable for those crimes.”

Rangel-Rubio, formerly a supervisor at Wolf Tree Service in Savannah, could face as much as 50 years in prison and must forfeit a 27-acre residential compound he owns in Rincon, Georgia.

Prosecutors said in a news release that the man, along with his brother, Juan Rangel-Rubio, 45, of Rincon, and Higinio Perez-Bravo, 52, of Savannah, had used assumed identities for the workers and avoided taxes and insurance premiums on them. When paying the workers in cash, the supervisors often took a cut. Altogether, the conspirators pulled in more than $3.5 million from the scheme, Estes said.

Montoya, the murder victim, first tried to report the exploitation of immigrant workers at the tree service in April 2017, but the complaint ended up in the hands of Rangel-Rubio, according to a news report. The boss then had all of his co-workers read the complaint aloud to Montoya, court documents show.

Several months later, Montoya reportedly filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He reportedly spoke to the EEOC about the alleged Rangel-Rubio scheme, saying immigrant workers were not always paid for hours worked and were allowed to drive work trucks without valid permits. Montoya also said workers’ compensation also was not obtained due to employees’ residency status.

Two days later, in August 2017, Montoya was shot dead.

Topics Georgia

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