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Deaf Mexicans urge life terms for alleged abusers

August 22, 1997

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Two Mexicans who escaped a ring that exploited deaf-mutes are calling for life sentences for a pair of men charged in the scheme.

But Alfonso Juarez and Guillermo Zamora told The Associated Press that they would like to return to the United States, a country they said is ``beautiful,″ despite the abuse they suffered there.

On Thursday, the two, communicating in sign language, told of abuses, threats and isolation during their years under the thumb of the Paoletti family, who they say controlled every detail of their lives.

``Now that he’s in jail ... let him stay there for his whole life. Make him give us our money back,″ 23-year-old Alfonso Juarez said, referring to Jose ``Pepe″ Paoletti.

Jose Paoletti and his son Renato Paoletti, arrested here earlier this month, were charged Thursday in Mexico City with immigrant trafficking and criminal association.

The indictments came one day after a New York court charged 20 others _ almost all deaf Mexican citizens themselves _ with enslavement and trafficking of deaf illegal immigrants.

Several members of the Paoletti family were named in the 11-count indictment in New York in Wednesday.

Juarez and Zamora said the ringleaders were able to hide from U.S. authorities a widespread scheme that may have involved more than a hundred deaf workers in several U.S. cities over more than a decade. It may have netted profits of as much as $1 million per year.

``Pepe Paoletti was very clever. He specifically recruited people from rural provinces who did not know sign language,″ said Juarez. ``As soon as we arrived, he cut the labels off our clothing to hide the fact we are Mexicans.″

Juarez said he was able to hide some of his earnings over a three-year period and escaped the ring in early 1997.

Zamora, who slept on the floor of a New York apartment, described a scene in which a woman he identified as a daughter-in-law of Jose Paoletti beat a deaf woman.

``She was hunch-backed and didn’t know sign language. ... She had been selling (in New York) for many years and wanted to go back to Mexico,″ Zamora said in sign language.

``She began to cry, so Rosa Maria hit her with a stick, and smeared her face with her baby’s feces,″ he said.

At least three other women who did not know sign language _ the case of about half of those in the New York apartments _ were sexually abused by one of the Paoletti’s sons, Zamora claimed.

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