TARBORO — Three of four farm labor organizers charged with second-degree trespassing on Oct. 25 at Greenleaf Nursery were found not guilty Thursday afternoon following a two-hour trial before District Judge Ed Brown in the Edgecombe County Courthouse.
“You hate to lose, but I guess three outta four ain’t bad,” joked defense attorney Robert J. Willis. “I think you could say there was a little home cooking, but I think the judge called it as he saw it.”
Only defendant Leticia Zavala was found guilty. Brown fined Zavala $100 and court costs and ordered her to stay away from the Greenleaf property, located at 2349 Chinquapin Road, seven miles southeast of Tarboro.
Greenleaf General Manager David Hutsell, one of three people to testify for Assistant District Attorney Amber Hardy in the case, declined comment when asked about the case’s outcome.
Zavala, Maria Perez, Rolando Perez and Jackkie Castillo were charged in the case after they went to Greenleaf’s facility in an effort to pass out informational fliers to workers — both those directly employed by Greenleaf and those they say are co-employees of Greenleaf through farm labor contractor Salvador Barajas.
The four defendants were all employees of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), AFL-CIO, at the time of the incident and continue to work to organize farm laborers in eastern North Carolina.
Early in the trial, Willis tried to paint the picture of an obvious bias against the four Hispanics because they were attempting to organize the farm workers.
Hardy objected and Hutsell denied the claim, but on two occasions, Hutsell identified the 48-year-old Zavala as “that girl” during testimony to identify defendants he had seen.
Willis objected, noting that “Ms. Zavala is over age 21 and is certainly not a girl.”
While the charges were filed over an Oct. 25 incident at Greenleaf, Hardy built her case on the fact the defendants had been at the work site the previous month with both Hutsell and HR/Operations Coordinator Kimberly Johnson testifying they had both, at varying times, told the group they “were not welcome” at the site.
Hardy said that since the defendants had been told they were not welcome, they should have known not to come back.
Zavala said, “Nobody told us not to come back.”
On the day charges were filed with Magistrate G.A. Jones, Edgecombe County Deputy Lorenzo Whitehead was dispatched on Johnson’s complaint call.
Whitehead testified that when he got to the facility, the four were all on public property. He said he advised Johnson and Hutsell that there was nothing he could do, because there was no law being broken, but that they could go to the magistrate and file a complaint.
Johnson said she and Hutsell talked about the charges and, “We all went to the Sheriff’s Office to file charges.”
Johnson said that while the four were not on Greenleaf property, it took “about 10 minutes” for them to exit after being told the Sheriff’s Office had been called.
FLOC says Greenleaf’s opposition to their talking with farmworkers is strictly monetary in nature.
In an earlier interview, FLOC Vice President Justin Flores explained the payroll laws when migrant — H-2A workers — are involved: “Any work that is considered ‘corresponding employment’ where U.S. workers — non-H-2A workers — are doing similar work to the H-2A workers, needs to provide at least the same wages and benefits as the H-2A workers.
“In this case, the grower is trying to go around that by hiring a labor contractor (Barajas) and saying that those workers aren’t employed by Greenleaf, so they don’t have to pay their workers the same wage rate. However, that labor contractor is legally a ‘joint employer’ of his workers with Greenleaf, so Greenleaf is responsible to offer the same wages to their employees that do similar work.”
Zavala said it quickly becomes a bottom-line issue.
“We believe (Greenleaf) are paying minimum wage of $7.25 per hour,” she said. “If the H-2A workers were paid their legal wage, it would cost (Greenleaf) a lot.”
Zavala said FLOC believes Greenleaf employs between 80 and 100 people at the site, which means an additional payroll of $400 to $500 per hour, or $4,000 to $5,000 plus taxes per 10-hour day.
“That’s why they don’t want the workers to listen to us,” Zavala said. “Money.”
Zavala said she was disappointed the judge found her guilty, but added, “It is what it is. It’s not going to change anything because we’re going to continue to work to ensure the farmworkers are treated fairly, paid a fair and legal wage and have decent living conditions.”
Teams of people on Wednesday were preparing a former downtown tobacco warehouse to be the scene of an upcoming colossal annual furniture sale.
The sale will be held at 218 N. Church St. and is set to start at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. The sale is put on by Bulluck Furniture Co., just down at 124 S. Church St., and by Wildwood Lamps, which is Bulluck Furniture’s wholesale division.
“It’s overwhelming,” Russ Barnes, one of the owners of the two family-owned businesses, said amid the mass of inventory. “It’s just a really fun sale to come to. The people who come here really enjoy it, seeing it and the values they get.”
That inventory is a combination of one-of-a-kind showroom samples, overstocked items and scratch-and-dent pieces.
Barnes said that the inventory includes probably 6,000 lampshades, thousands of lamps, more than a thousand pieces of furniture, probably 300 to 400 chandeliers, tens of thousands of decorative accessories and hundreds of planters and pots.
As for what has been added for the 2020 sale, Barnes showed shelves of leather travel bags that a leather furniture supplier in India decided to craft for sale.
The genesis of the upcoming sale can be traced to when Wildwood Lamps, which has been in business for 50 years, began having closeout sales and when Bulluck’s, which has been in business since the start of the 1900s, began having once-a-year furniture sales in January.
“And the combination of those two led us to have a sale of the decorative accessories and closeout pieces that we had at the Bulluck furniture store,” Barnes said.
Barnes said by the time he joined the two businesses in 1987, more room was needed to conduct the sale.
Barnes said the sale that people know of today began in 1987 across from the Bulluck store, in what was the Belk-Tyler department store annex.
Barnes said the sale has been held at the intersection of Benvenue and Hunter Hill roads, at the site of the former Lowe’s Home Improvement and at what today is the site of the UEC Theatres.
Barnes also said the sale also has been held in the former Home Depot just off Hunter Hill and which today is Word Tabernacle Church.
Barnes said by the start of the 2000s, the sale was shifted to the former tobacco warehouse. Barnes said with the exception of one instance, the building has been the home of the sale ever since.
The building dates to 1924 and is about 70,000 square feet.
Barnes said he is hoping a couple of thousand people will come on Saturday.
Barnes said probably 120 people will be working on Saturday and that there will be 15 checkout counters in place.
Barnes said the sale attracts people from all over, including as far away as California to also visit family in the area, but he said business is driven by comers from the Research Triangle region and from down east toward Wilmington.
Barnes is a firm believer in downtown.
“We bring a lot of people to Rocky Mount who would not otherwise come here,” Barnes said.
Asked whether he hopes downtown can be revitalized and brought back to full occupancy, Barnes said, “I think it’s going to happen, I really do. We’ve got such good things going on right now. We’re such big investors — and we’ve been down here for a long time.”
The family has a warehouse in South Rocky Mount, a showroom at the High Point Market and a showroom at the Atlanta Merchandise Mart.
Additionally, Barnes himself travels worldwide to find merchandise.
“I’m headed to Frankfurt, Germany, and India in two weeks — and then I’ll be going to China and Vietnam in about six weeks,” Barnes said.
Barnes also has been to France, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.
The annual sale downtown is put together by a highly experienced team, with one of the key leaders being Eliza Bowen.
“I’m the big boss,” Bowen said. “The big boss tells everybody what to do.”
Asked why she is involved in organizing the sale, Bowen said, “I like the people I work with.”
Barnes also said, “I like meeting different people,” noting that she enjoys the crowds and that she has met people from as far away as Atlanta, Miami, New York and Richmond, Va.
Meanwhile, John Kincheloe, one of the owners of Bulluck Furniture and Wildwood Lamps, and sales team member Pam Evans were preparing the price tags.
“I’ve been here every day since Christmas getting ready,” Kincheloe said. “I’ve still got to mark all this furniture. I’m the furthest behind of everybody.”
Evans said of her role, “I’m a jack of all trades.”
Asked what she enjoys about doing what she does, she said, “I love working with the women who are down here and Eliza Bowen and all the Kincheloe family — and just working as a team and getting it ready for the big sale.
“It’s an exciting day when you see all those hundreds of people arriving and ready to shop,” Evans said. “We just have a good time.”
Saturday’s sale extends from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Day two of the sale is set for 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, with plans calling for the sale to occur on successive weekends through the rest of the winter.
Barnes said the schedule will vary and that people wanting to keep track of details of specific sale times and dates can go online to www.bulluckfurniture.com.
Nash County commissioners voted Tuesday to withhold funding for a new elementary school until school board members agree to collaborate more effectively with them.
The motion, which was made by Commissioner Fred Belfield and passed unanimously, states that the Nash County Board of Commissioners will “inform the (Nash-Rocky Mount) Board of Education that the Nash County commissioners have not established a capital budget ordinance to build a new elementary school.”
The motion goes on to state that “this capital budget ordinance will be established by the Board of Commissioners at such time as the school board agrees to work together with this Board of Commissioners in a spirit of cooperation to build the best school possible, utilizing the talents of both boards to do what is best for our children and for the taxpayers of Nash County.”
The motion was passed by county commissioners after a closed session during which they consulted with board attorney Vince Durham concerning the matter, board Chairman Robbie Davis said Tuesday.
No discussion of this matter was held in open session.
School officials apparently were taken aback by the motion. Christine Catalano, executive director of communication, planning and engagement for Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, said the school district and school board were not aware of the decision before the meeting of the commissioners.
“We were made aware of the motions this morning,” Catalano said Wednesday. “The information was not shared with us before the meeting.”
Though county commissioners did not specify why they made this move, two recent decisions by the school board were in direct opposition to the expressed wishes of county commissioners.
Earlier this month, the school board approved a contract with Cumming Corp. to spend up to $167,000 to hire the organization for project management services for the initial phases of construction of the new school that is proposed in the Red Oak area. County commissioners already had moved to refuse to pay for project management services, saying the services were not needed if an appropriate architectural firm was hired. The school board voted to hire the firm anyway and to request the funding from county commissioners.
The other issue is that of representation of county commissioners on an ad hoc committee designed to help plan the construction of the new elementary school. At a joint meeting of the two boards in December, county commissioners gave an impassioned plea to have a “seat at the table” in these meetings and to have a voice and vote concerning the decisions that were made.
County commissioners said they felt this was necessary because the county could offer some services, wisdom and support in these decisions. They also noted that past school construction projects had run over budget. By working together, the commissioners hoped to avoid similar mistakes, they said.
However, the school board already has planned its first ad hoc new school construction meeting for Tuesday. Davis told the Telegram that the school board had not contacted them regarding this committee and that no county commissioners had been invited to serve.
Catalano told the Telegram that the newly formed ad hoc new construction committee is composed of school board chairman Franklin Lamm, who will serve as the committee chairman; school board members Ann Edge, Doneva Chavis, Ricky Jenkins and Chris Bissette; interim school superintendent Del Burns; and Shannon Davis, director of maintenance for Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.
Neither the creation of the committee nor its composition were ever discussed in an open session of the Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education.
Catalano said county commissioners are invited to attend these ad hoc meetings. However, they will not be given a vote on decisions made by the committee, it appears.
“As with previously held meetings, a formal written invitation was sent from the Nash-Rocky Mount school board to the Nash County commissioners cordially inviting them to the committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 28,” Catalano said.
That meeting will be held in the Central Office Auditorium at the Nash-Rocky Mount Administrative Center in Nashville.
Lamm said he feels the school board already is working with county commissioners and trying to be as transparent as possible.
“Our board has been open and transparent as we have worked through the process of planning for the new school,” Lamm said. “We have provided information to the Nash County commissioners throughout the process including personally inviting them to meetings to hear information first-hand.”
The Nash County Sheriff’s Office’s Operation Blizzard narcotics investigation netted the arrests of two Bailey men and a considerable amount of cocaine.
Members of the Nash County Narcotics Unit, the Criminal Investigations Division and Patrol Platoon B followed up on an ongoing narcotics investigation about 6:30 p.m. on Friday on Maudis Road in Bailey.
Deputies had received information that Francisco Javier Macias Jr. of Lee Road in Bailey was conducting multiple narcotics transactions near an open area on Maudis Road. During the investigation, deputies observed Macias driving his black 2006 Chrysler 300C on Old Bailey Highway near N.C. 97 and followed him to Maudis Road.
Deputies said they witnessed Macias meet another person and conduct a narcotics transaction, according to a press release from the Sheriff’s Office. Nash County deputies approached both suspects and found Macias to be in possession of about five ounces of powder cocaine.
A search of Macias’ vehicle and passenger, later identified as Jose Juan Castillo of Maudis Road in Bailey, was conducted and resulted in the discovery of a Beretta handgun, marijuana, oxycodone and cash.
During the investigation, 377.5 grams of powder cocaine was seized from Macias.
A search of Jose Juan Castillo resulted in no illegal contraband being located. However, an undisclosed amount of cash was seized.
Macias was charged with five counts of trafficking cocaine by possession; five counts of trafficking cocaine by transportation; four counts of trafficking cocaine by delivery; four counts of trafficking cocaine by sale; two counts of possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine; two counts of sell or deliver cocaine; one count of possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana; seven counts of maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance; and one count of simple possession of a Schedule II controlled substance.
Macias, 22, was jailed under a $1.2 million secured bond in the Nash County Detention Center.
Castillo was charged with one count of trafficking cocaine by possession; one count of trafficking of cocaine by transportation; one count of possession with intent to sell or deliver marijuana and one count of simple possession of a Schedule II controlled substance.
Castillo, 24, was jailed under a $200,000 secured bond in the Nash County Detention Center.
Macias and Castillo had their first appearance on Tuesday and currently are in custody at the Nash County Detention Center.