Cracking a Slavery Ring: How deaf Mexicans were smuggled into forced servitude.


Source: Newsweek
Date: 8/4/1997

The cops had been there, most recently after reports of a violent domestic quarrel in the predawn hours of July 11. No one was arrested and no charges were filed. A city inspector had been there, back in February, after neighbors complained that too many people were living in the house. He found no building-code violations. But last week police and federal investigators discovered that the apartment at 37-54 93d Street, Jackson Heights, N.Y., had been a sort of slave quarters for 44 Mexican men, women and children — most of whom were illegal aliens and almost all of whom were deaf. Smuggled into the United States and forced to sell trinkets on New York City subways, “los Muditos” (“the mutes”) were isolated, threatened and in some cases physically abused. what made their exploitation even stranger was the fact that their employers, also Mexican nationals, were hearing-impaired as well.
As prosecutors told it, los Muditos were systematically victimized by a close-knit Mexico City family headed by Jose Paoletti Moreda, 59, and his wife, Adelja, 59. The Paolettis are deaf. So are their three children, Adriana, 29, Jose, 28, and Renato, about 20, all of whom allegedly took active roles in the family business. Recruited in Mexico on the promise of good-paying jobs in the United States, the workers were smuggled across the border to Los Angeles and then flown to New York, where they were forced to work long hours selling key rings and other trinkets at $1 apiece by presenting themselves as handicapped. The quota was to sell 100 or more items every day, and it was harshly enforced. In return, los Muditos were paid $200 a month but owed $100 for room and board-a classic peonage scheme in which the worker never quite gets out of debt while the employer rakes in the profits. Investigators found $35,000 in small bills in the Jackson Heights apartment, and Queens D.A. Richard A. Brown said the ring had been “a pretty lucrative operation.”
And it was branching out. The family allegedly maintained two different apartments in Jackson Heights — 13 more aliens were found at the second pad — and federal officials chased leads to similar operations in other cities. Six deaf Mexican trinket-sellers were found sharing an apartment in Chicago, and an official of the Mexican Consulate there said he believed there was “a connection to the problem in New York.” Fourteen more deaf Mexicans were corralled by the U.S. immigration and Naturalization Service in Sanford, N.C., a town that has a sizable Mexican-American population. In Washington, a federal source told Newsweek that the New York and North Carolina operations were connected, and INS officials said they saw a “conspiracy” to exploit speech-and hearing-impaired Mexicans. “They were powerless,” INS Special Agent Russ Parry said. “This is 1990s bondage, right here in Sanford, N.C.”
In Mexico City, Newsweek interviewed a 40-year-old deaf woman who said she worked for the Paolett, family in New York and Chicago for several months early this year. “I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she said in sign language. The woman said she was recruited in Mexico City, entered the United States on false documents and flew to New York from San Diego. She shared a house in Queens with nearly 50 other deaf people. “They didn’t give us anything. No money. No clothes. There wasn’t anything good to eat,” she said. Workers were forbidden to talk among themselves and some women in the crew said they had been raped. When she said she wanted to go home, the woman said, she was roughed up and told she had to work for five years. She was then sent to Chicago where, in late April, she broke away with the help of a city cop.
Five members of the clan were arrested in New York last week, and investigators are hunting for the patriarch, Jose Paoletti, and his younger son Renato, both of whom are believed to be in Mexico. (Adelia and Adriana Paoletti pleaded not guilty to state felony charges.) But the U.S. probe is continuing and Mexican authorities have launched a parallel investigation — for both countries aim to find out why los Muditos were betrayed by their own.

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One response to “Cracking a Slavery Ring: How deaf Mexicans were smuggled into forced servitude.

  1. Commentary By
    Matthew G. Jack:
    Today while reviewing my news alerts I have set up, I came across an article about a case I was involved in back in 1997. It was a very heart wrenching but interesting case that shows just how organized crime is involved in Human Trafficking. It also shows the depths such criminals will stoop to in order to further their criminal enterprises.

    The telephone conversation went something like this very early that July Morning.

    Me: Hello,
    Caller: Are you the Duty Supervisor?
    Me: Yes,
    Caller: I am Captain So-and-So (wish I can member his name) from the 115 precinct NYPD.
    Me: Ok,
    Caller: We have about 50 Deaf and Mute Mexicans here at the precinct house.
    Me: Richie?,
    Caller:No sir Captain So-and-So (why can’t I remember his name?) NYPD
    Me: You have what again please?,
    Caller: We have 50 Deaf and Mute Mexicans here at the precinct house.,
    Me: I am on my way Captain.

    At that point in my career I had received tons of duty calls late at night or early in the morning but this one stands out. The first thought in my mind was that this call was so outlandish it had to be my buddy and fellow Supervisory Special Agent Richie playing one of his many jokes. But what I saw within the next few hours was no joke. Innocent, special needs people, and children of God trafficked into the United States by a ruthless criminal organization that used them to make mountains of money exploiting the sympathy of good people and the victim’s disabilities. The cramped quarters and squalor these innocent victims lived in was horrible and depressing. This small cramped apartment that the bad guys used to house and contain the victims had rooms with roughly made bunk beds that went from low on the floor nearly to the ceiling. The first thought that raced to my mind is that this was reminiscent of Nazi Concentration Camp barracks. As the case progressed and the evidence mounted we learned that the victims and criminal enterprise in New York was just a part of a larger enterprise reaching across the United States exploiting deaf mute Mexicans. I have included one media report from that time and links to others (Google Deaf Mexicans for more) to give you an understanding of what we were up against and what these victims went through. I just want to commend my fellow Special Agents of the old INS now ICE, the NYPD and the prosecutors of the Eastern District of New York that aggressively pursued this case. Treated the victims with kindness and compassion and gave the bad guys what they deserved by Law. I wish they all could have gotten a lot more. I hope you find the article below and the links informative.

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