Two Plead Guilty In Decade-Old Slavery Case

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The New York Sun

A father and son pleaded guilty yesterday to forcing dozens of deaf Mexicans to sell $1 trinkets on the subways a decade ago.

The pleas in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn close a case that drew national attention nine years ago, when law enforcement officials broke up a slavery ring. More than 18 other people pleaded guilty by 1998.

The cases against Jose Paoletti-Moreda, 63, and his son, Renato Paoletti-Lemus, 33, were put on hold until yesterday, following the release of the two from Mexico’s prison system. They pleaded guilty to extortion.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to five-year prison sentences in this country for the two. The judge, Nina Gershon, will formally sentence them on September 27.

One prosecutor, Pamela Chen, told the judge she expects several of the former captives to come to court to deliver victim statements.

Paoletti-Moreda and his son already have served eight years in prison in the Mexico City area, although prosecutors said they were certain only that four years were in connection to the slave ring. Prosecutors say the men, who are deaf, played central roles in an operation that lured dozens of deaf Mexicans to New York, where they were forced to sell key chains and pencils, some for years on end. The immigrants lived in slave-like conditions in two apartments in Queens, where they were threatened and abused.

“I told them to go to work and if they didn’t bring back money, I would hurt them,” Paoletti-Moreda said yesterday. He spoke through the same Mexican sign language interpreter who has handled the case since the beginning.

Paoletti-Moreda and his son were in Mexico in July 1997 when law enforcement broke up the slave ring, which was in operation since 1993. Yesterday, they delivered their guilty pleas in sign language by flashing their right hands quickly.

As part of the plea agreement, the men also agreed to pay $1.4 million in restitution. When questioned by the judge, Paoletti-Moreda spoke on topics that ranged from his physical ailments to the lack of educational opportunities for the deaf in Mexico. He can hardly read and never attended school, he said.

“It’s difficult to communicate with the staff at the prison,” he said, adding, “I’m very alone now. I have to suffer.”

Ms. Chen, the prosecutor, said at least 30 of the victims continue to live in America. She said she did not know how many would come to the sentencing in September.

The New York Sun

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