Law enforcement officials in Mexico City and Washington, D.C., on Friday began preparing criminal charges against two men arrested Thursday and accused of smuggling dozens of deaf Mexican immigrants into the United States and forcing them to sell trinkets in New York and other cities.
After an 18-day manhunt, Renato Paoletti Lemus, known as the Boss in the New York homes where his workers slept on the floor in two overcrowded apartments, was apprehended in Mexico City by the Mexican police and agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Mexican officials said they planned to charge Paoletti and his father, Jose Paoletti Moreda, with organized crime, saying they lured hundreds of deaf Mexicans to the United States with promises of high-paying jobs, smuggling them illegally across the border.
But U.S. officials hope to try the younger Paoletti in New York, where he is accused of forcing the illegal immigrants to panhandle 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and using violence and threats to prevent them from leaving.
Federal agents have accused Paoletti of links to similar operations in Los Angeles and Chicago and have arrested 19 people nationwide in the case.
An official in the attorney general’s office in Mexico City who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Paolettis had several bank accounts and more than $1 million in assets from their peddling ring.
Court papers filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn charged Renato Paoletti with extortion, saying he sexually abused some female peddlers and ordered beatings of any workers who failed to meet a $100-a-day sales quota.
Federal officials said the affidavit is the first step in the extradition process, but it will be several weeks before prosecutors make a formal request.
In Mexico City, Mexican officials interviewed Paoletti and his father Friday, along with two other men who were arrested on Thursday as they tried to cash a certificate of deposit at a Banamex branch. Initial reports from the attorney general’s office in Mexico City said the Paolettis were found locked in a room in the city’s Narvarte section, and may have been the victims of a robbery.
Mexican prosecutors Friday said that they planned to charge the two men apprehended in the bank, Jose Rustrian Paoletti and Ezdra Suri Dahab Kassin, with forgery.
But U.S. law enforcement officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the men may have been working in concert with Renato Paoletti and his father. Al Atkinson, a spokesman for the INS, declined comment.