August 2, 1997 in Nation/World

New Charge In Alleged Slave Trade Officials Say Man, Who Is Deaf, Beat Deaf, Illegal Workers In Ring

Ian Fisher New York Times
 

Federal authorities charged yet another person Friday with being part of the cross-country ring that they say exploited and abused deaf immigrants smuggled from Mexico.

Like almost everyone arrested so far, the man charged Friday is a deaf, illegal immigrant whose job, authorities said, was to administer beatings to other deaf people at the behest of a group ringleader.

The arrest, the 17th so far in the case, came at the end of a busy week for federal investigators in New York, Chicago and especially Los Angeles, where on Thursday they broke up an operation that they say smuggled perhaps hundreds of deaf people into the country.

Authorities have yet to say publicly exactly how widespread - or lucrative - they think the organization was. But the picture they have painted of its leadership was altered slightly in court papers filed Friday.

Renato Paoletti Lemus, a man in his early 20s who has so far evaded arrest, has until now been described as “the boss.” But the papers filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn assigned a broader role to Paoletti Lemus’ 29-year-old sister, Adriana, portraying her as a driving force who “helped” workers into the United States and who ran the family’s first house of deaf peddlers in New York.

The papers said Ms. Paoletti Lemus ordered the man charged Friday, Augustino Rodriguez Torres, 26, to beat workers “when they have attempted to escape and when they don’t return with sufficient money after a day of selling trinkets.” The authorities say that the Paolettis forced the deaf peddlers to sell $100 worth of cheap trinkets each day.

A law enforcement official said Friday that the authorities believed Rodriguez Torres was the more vicious of two “enforcers” who lived at one of two houses in Jackson Heights, Queens, that were jammed with dozens of deaf peddlers and their bosses.

Like the other person called an enforcer, who was arrested earlier this week, Rodriguez Torres was among the 57 people taken into protective custody on July 19 and housed in the Westway Motor Inn in Queens. Only later did officials begin to hear from other peddlers that he was not a victim but one of their abusers.

Rodriguez Torres was charged with smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States, transporting them and concealing them from the authorities.

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