Category: 2023impact2

It is probably no surprise that as an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project, I often talk to seniors who have been financially exploited. What may surprise some people is that it’s often family members and caretakers, including their own children, doing the exploiting.

Many older people lose money or property not just to strangers, but also to people they know who take advantage of their relationship and obtain money or assets through theft or coercion. Understandably it’s very hard for these seniors to come forward and seek help when it means admitting that someone close to them has failed them in this way.  

Why does this happen so often? As we get older, we may become more dependent on others due to physical or mental health problems. That dependence creates opportunities for ill-intentioned caretakers or others close to us to exploit weaknesses. Add to that the increased prevalence of scams generally, and life can become a minefield for vulnerable seniors.

In honor of Elder Abuse Awareness Month and more particularly Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, here are a couple of things that you can do to protect yourself as you get older.

If you are still able to make decisions and manage your affairs, now is the perfect time to think carefully about who you trust to help you if a time comes when you cannot do things for yourself.

If you know who you trust (and who you do not trust), you can set up advance directives, including a durable power of attorney and health care power of attorney, that appoint the right people to manage your affairs and make decisions on your behalf should you become unable to help yourself. Getting advance directives in place while you are able to make decisions will ensure that you’ll have the right help when you no longer are able to make decisions. 

Keep in mind that because scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, we all need to continue learning about the latest types of scams and how to avoid them. Staying current on this topic will help to avoid being taken advantage of by strangers, family members and caregivers alike.

One resource that will help you stay up to date is AARP’s podcast, “The Perfect Scam”: And for further information, the National Center on Elder Abuse website has a wealth of information about all types of elder abuse:

Finally, if you are a senior who has been financially exploited or abused in any way, please know that you are far from alone and that there is help available. In addition to the resources above, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Legal Helpline provides confidential and free legal assistance to victims of elder abuse.


About Author Jennifer Stuart is an attorney in Raleigh with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project (SLP). The SLP provides free civil legal help to North Carolinians who are 60 or older. To contact the SLP, call 1-877-579-7562 (toll-free), Monday through Friday, 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m.  Please keep in mind when calling this number that due to limited staffing resources, there may be a wait to talk to an intake specialist.

Category: 2023impact2

← Back to Three Labor Camp Cooks Represented by Legal Aid of North Carolina Farmworker Unit and the North Carolina Justice Center settle their human trafficking and wage theft claims with Gracia Harvesting, Inc.

RALEIGH (June 2, 2023) – With the assistance of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Farmworker Unit and the North Carolina Justice Center, three farmworkers reached a settlement for their case against farm labor contractors José M. Gracia Harvesting, Inc., José M. Gracia, and Gracia & Sons, LLC (Gracia Defendants) based in Four Oaks, North Carolina, for human trafficking and unpaid overtime wages. The settlement agreement, which just received approval by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle, requires the Gracia Defendants to pay the Plaintiffs $102,500, plus attorneys’ fees and costs. Defendants are additionally court-ordered to make extensive changes to how they do business in the future.

The Plaintiffs, all women, were employed through the federal H2A visa program. During their employment with the Gracia Defendants, Plaintiffs allege they were paid for only a fraction of the long hours they worked cooking meals for farmworkers, while being subjected to poor and abusive working conditions. The Plaintiffs allege agents of the Gracia Defendants recruited them from Mexico to work for Defendants in North Carolina as agricultural workers. The Plaintiffs incurred significant debts for their visas and travel and, upon arrival in North Carolina, learned they were required to work in the Defendants’ kitchens preparing and selling food while the male H2A workers earned higher wages working in the field. Because they were working as camp cooks for their labor contractor employer rather than in the field doing agricultural labor, the Plaintiffs should have been paid one and a half times their regular rate of pay for their overtime hours. Instead, they allege, Gracia Defendants did not pay them at all for their overtime hours.

In their lawsuit, the Plaintiffs state that Defendants confiscated their passports, threatened them with criminal and immigration consequences if they were to leave, and forced them to work in an environment with verbal and physical abuse, sexual harassment, unpaid wages, extremely long hours, and food deprivation. One of the Plaintiffs fled almost immediately, while the other two allege they worked upwards of 100 hours a week with no overtime pay. In the complaint, one Plaintiff describes suffering intentionally inflicted burns and other physical injuries and being prevented from leaving the migrant camp.

In addition to the financial settlement, the Gracia Defendants must post signs in their labor camps in Spanish and English, reinforcing the rights of housing occupants to have visitors. They are required to post additional signage published by the North Carolina Human Trafficking Commission advising workers of emergency resources and develop and disseminate a comprehensive sexual harassment and sexual assault policy. Additionally, the Defendants must post signs explaining that persons employed as cooks are entitled to overtime pay, use an electronic timekeeping system for camp cooks, and pay overtime to all cooks. The Defendants are prohibited from possessing or controlling their employees’ passports or identification documents and are required to provide timely reimbursement to all their H2A workers for their travel and visa expenses.

One of the Plaintiffs, Yesica Velasco-Lopez, explained, “It was important for us to come out of this case making the future better for others that come to work after us. Other workers won’t have to suffer like we did.”

“It was important for there to be signs up in the labor camps with phone numbers that workers can call for help,” Velasco-Lopez continued. “Workers should not be afraid if they need information about their rights. There are people that can help them.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Carol Brooke, Senior Attorney, North Carolina Justice Center,, 919-856-2144; Caitlin Ryland, Managing Attorney, Legal Aid of North Carolina Farmworker Unit,, 919-856-2180

Comunicado de prensa: 3 cocineras para trabajadores agrícolas representados por la División de Trabajadores Agricolas de Ayuda Legal de Carolina del Norte y el Centro de Justicia de Carolina del Norte resuelven sus reclamos de trata de personas y robo de salarios con Gracia Harvesting, Inc.

RALEIGH (2 de junio, 2023) – Con la asistencia de la División de Trabajadores Agricolas de Ayuda Legal de Carolina del Norte y el Centro de Justicia de Carolina del Norte, tres cocineras para trabajadores agrícolas llegaron a un acuerdo para su caso contra sus contratistas de trabajadores agrícolas José M. Gracia Harvesting, Inc., José M. Gracia y Gracia & Sons, LLC (Demandados de Gracia) con sede en Four Oaks, Carolina del Norte, por trata de personas y salarios de horas extras no pagados. El acuerdo de conciliación, que acaba de recibir la aprobación del juez del Tribunal de Distrito de los Estados Unidos Terrence Boyle, requiere que los Demandados de Gracia paguen a los Demandantes $ 102,500, más los honorarios y costos de los abogados. Además, los Demandados recibieron una orden judicial que les obliga a realizar cambios extensos en la forma en que hagan negocios en el futuro.

Las Demandantes, todas ellas mujeres, fueron empleadas a traves del programa federal de visas H-2A. Durante su empleo con los Demandados de Gracia, las Demandantes alegan que se les pagó solo por una fracción de las largas horas que trabajaron cocinando comidas para los trabajadores agrícolas mientras estaban sujetas a condiciones de trabajo deficientes y abusivas. Las Demandantes alegan que agentes de los Demandados de Gracia las reclutaron desde México para trabajar para los Demandados en Carolina del Norte como trabajadores agrícolas. Las Demandantes incurrieron en deudas significativas por sus visas y viajes y, al llegar a Carolina del Norte, se enteraron de que se les exigió que trabajaran en las cocinas de los Demandados preparando y vendiendo alimentos, mientras que los trabajadores masculinos H2A ganaban salarios más altos trabajando en el campo. Debido a que estaban trabajando como cocineras en el campamento para su empleador contratista en lugar de en el campo haciendo trabajo agrícola, a las Demandantes se les debería haber pagado una vez y media su tarifa regular de pago por sus horas extras. En cambio, alegan que los Demandados de Gracia no les pagaron en absoluto por sus horas extras.

En su demanda, las Demandantes afirman que los Demandados confiscaron sus pasaportes, les amenazaron con consecuencias penales y de inmigración si se iban y les obligaron a trabajar en un ambiente bajo abuso verbal y físico, acoso sexual, salarios no pagados, horas extremadamente largas y privación de alimentos. Una de las demandantes huyó casi de inmediato, mientras que las otras dos alegan que trabajaron más de 100 horas a la semana sin pago de horas extras. En la demanda, una demandante describe haber sufrido quemaduras infligidas intencionalmente y otras lesiones físicas y que se le impidió abandonar el campamento de migrantes.

Además del acuerdo financiero, los Demandados de Gracia deben colocar letreros en sus campos de trabajo en español e inglés, reforzando los derechos de los ocupantes de la vivienda a tener visitas. Se les exige que coloquen letreros adicionales publicados por la Comisión de Trata de Personas de Carolina del Norte que informen a los trabajadores sobre los recursos de emergencia y desarrollen, y difundan, una política integral de acoso sexual y agresión sexual. Además, los Demandados deben colocar letreros que expliquen que las personas empleadas como cocineros tienen derecho al pago de horas extras, usar un sistema electrónico de registro del tiempo para los cocineros del campamento y pagar horas extras a todos los cocineros. Los Demandados tienen prohibido poseer o controlar los pasaportes o documentos de identificación de sus empleados y están obligados a proporcionar un reembolso oportuno a todos sus trabajadores H-2A por sus gastos de viaje y visa.

Una de las Demandantes, Yesica Velasco-Lopez, explicó, “Fue importante para nosotros salir de este caso mejorando el futuro para otros que vienen a trabajar después de nosotros. Otros trabajadores no tendrán que sufrir como nosotros. “Fue importante que se pusieran carteles en los campamentos con números de teléfono a los que los trabajadores puedan llamar para pedir ayuda”, dijo Velasco-Lopez. “Los trabajadores no deben tener miedo si necesitan información sobre sus derechos. Hay personas que pueden ayudarlos.”

Category: 2023impact2

For over two decades, the Battered Immigrant Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina has provided critical legal assistance to immigrants suffering from domestic abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Now, the project team is excited to announce they have changed their name to Immigration Pathways for Victims, or IMMPAV.

Rona Karacaova, managing attorney at IMMPAV, says on the change, “When Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Battered Immigrant Project was created in 2002, due to federal restrictions, its focus was to assist immigrant victims of domestic violence. Since that time, the scope of the immigration services which Legal Aid of North Carolina provides has expanded to include services for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking due the federal government’s recognition that that immigrant victims of these crimes are especially vulnerable and need legal services. Thus, we are now changing our name to Immigration Pathways for Victims (IMMPAV) to accurately reflect the services we provide immigrant victims of crimes.”

IMMPAV will perform the same duties and responsibilities of the Battered Immigrant Project. With this name change, the team aims to continue handling the same category of cases with the same efficiency, efficacy, and empathy that they’ve regularly employed over the last twenty years.

Karacaova continues, “IMMPAV’s goal is to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking obtain the immigration benefits which Congress created for them. These benefits include employment authorization and legal status so that victims can emerge from the shadows, work, and support their family members without being tempted to return to abusive situations in order to provide shelter and food for their children and themselves. Immigration law is complex, and the process to apply for various benefits is confusing and can take years. Without our assistance, many victims and their family members would not be able to access the benefits to which they are entitled.”