Palatka man enslaves homeless

Photo by Erica Eding
Ronald Evans Sr. was sentenced to 30 years in federal prision in 2006 for rounding up dozens of homeless people and keeping them in debt. Evans’ wife and son were also convicted.
Editor’s note: The Flagler chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has been investigating human trafficking offenses in Northeast Florida. This is one of their stories.

By Erica Eding |

A Palatka man who enslaved homeless people on his labor camp is scheduled for a re-sentencing on Jan. 26.

Ronald Evans Sr. was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison in 2006. His wife and son were also convicted.

The Evanses rounded up dozens of homeless and drove them to their labor camps where they sold the workers overpriced cocaine, beer and cigarettes to keep them in debt.

Reneé Morris, the executive director of the St. Francis House, said the Evans family was “keeping these people trapped in a world of drugs and alcohol.”

“There’s enough outrage in this area that it isn’t going to happen,” Morris said.

Morris says the judge made an example of Evans, but was justified in doing so. “Somebody like that needs to be really taught a lesson and know how it feels to be treated as sub-human,” she said.

After his conviction, Evans’ 2.5 acre, four-bedroom home with a five-car garage and screened-in swimming pool was sold at auction. Evans is now fighting to have his sentence reduced, and if he is released early, his home will be waiting. It was bought for $170,000 by a friend who plans to re-sell the property to Evans upon his release.

Overall, human trafficking is on the rise in Northeast Florida. And according to Morris, it’s not just immigrants who are enslaved in labor camps. Homeless people from other cities are promised a job, but before long they become trapped in a cycle of debt to their employer. And there are few resources for victims. Palatka does not have a homeless shelter.

Morris said St. Francis House donates hundreds of sandwiches to migrant camp workers. But the food often does not arrive at its destination.

“We have to be careful because a lot of times the foreman will take the sandwiches and sell them to the workers,” Morris said.

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