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Federal grand jury indicts 20 in deaf-Mexicans slave plot

August 20, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ A federal grand jury indicted 20 people for allegedly smuggling deaf Mexicans into the United States and forcing them to peddle trinkets on subways, officials said Wednesday.

The indictment announced Wednesday spelled out details of a coast-to-coast scheme in which bosses in New York and Chicago allegedly used threats and violence to keep their victims in line, and sometimes ``traded″ them back and forth like baseball teams swapping outfielders. Authorities said the scheme netted up to $1 million a year in small change.

U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter said the 20 defendants, 18 in custody in the United States and two in Mexico, are accused of violating the civil rights of 60 deaf and mute Mexicans kept in involuntary servitude since 1993.

Other charges include extortion and smuggling, transporting and harboring illegal aliens.

While the 11-count indictment covered alleged crimes since 1993, the smuggling operation actually dates from 1988, and succeeded partly because the victims were afraid to reveal their plight, officials said.

``Every case of slavery is terrible, but this one is especially appalling because of the double exploitation,″ Isabelle Katz Pinzler, acting chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, told a news conference. The victims were exploited both as illegal immigrants and as handicapped persons, she said.

The defendants, all Mexicans and some of them deaf as well, face penalties of up to 20 years if convicted of extortion, five years on the conspiracy counts and 10 years on each of the alien smuggling-related charges.

The operation came to light July 19 when four deaf Mexicans turned up at a police station in Queens and told a story of being smuggled into the United States and held in virtual bondage while peddling keychains and other cheap trinkets on subways and streets.

Police raided two houses, where they found 57 people living in cramped conditions, and arrested a number of others identified as bosses or participants in the ring.

Among those charged in the indictment were the alleged ringleaders, Renato Paoletti Lemus and his father, Jose Paoletti Moreda Sr., who were arrested in Mexico City last Thursday. Carter said his office had begun extradition proceedings to return them to New York, although Mexican authorities said they must be tried in Mexico first.

Two other men arrested in Mexico at the same time were not named in the U.S. indictment.

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