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Federal grand jury indicts 20 in deaf-Mexicans slave plot

August 21, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ Twenty people were accused by a federal grand jury Wednesday of conspiring to smuggle deaf Mexicans into the United States and forcing them to peddle trinkets on streets and subways _ a scheme that earned up to $1 million a year, officials said.

The wholesale indictment outlined a nationwide operation in which bosses allegedly used threats and violence to keep victims in servitude, and sometimes ``traded″ them between New York and Chicago like baseball teams swapping players.

U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter said the 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 the recruiting, smuggling, transporting and harboring of illegal aliens.

While the 11-count indictment covered crimes since 1993, the smuggling operation actually dates from 1988, and succeeded partly because the victims were too terrified to reveal their plight, officials said at a news conference.

``Every case of slavery is terrible but this one is especially appalling because of the double exploitation″ of people who were not only illegal aliens but physically handicapped, said Isabelle Katz Pinzler, acting chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

The defendants face penalties of up to 20 years for extortion, five years for conspiracy and 10 years on each of the alien smuggling-related charges.

Carter spokesman William Muller said all but two defendants were Mexican nationals, and identified another two, Alfredo Rustrian-Paoletti, 27, known as ``the Hearing Man,″ and Francisco Duenas-Olveras, 28, as the only ones not hearing-impaired.

Duenas-Olveras was one of five defendants with Chicago addresses. One lives in Los Angeles and most others in New York, Muller said.

The operation surfaced July 19 when four deaf Mexicans showed up at a police station in New York’s borough of Queens and told of being smuggled into the United States and held in virtual bondage while peddling key chains and other cheap trinkets on subways and streets.

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

Among those charged in the indictment were alleged ringleaders Renato Paoletti Lemus, 34, and his father, Jose Paoletti Moreda Sr., 59, who were arrested in Mexico City last Thursday. Carter said his office had begun extradition proceedings to return them to New York.

The 57 victims, most of them deaf and some unable to speak, remained in protective custody at a Queens motel as potential material witnesses in the case.

Carter said the workers, formerly a common sight on New York’s subways, are believed to have sold enough of the $1 trinkets to bring in $750,000 to $1 million a year over the past five years.

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