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Monday, June 21, 2004

Newsday.com - Busted for Slavery in NY

Newsday.com - AP Regional

By FRANK ELTMAN
Associated Press Writer

June 21, 2004, 5:20 PM EDT

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- Three members of a Long Island family were arrested Monday on federal immigration charges, accused of smuggling more than 100 aliens from Peru and then forcing the workers into "virtual servitude" as repayment, prosecutors said.

Maruiluz Zavala, 42, Jorge Ibanez, 41, and their daughter, Evelyn Ibanez, 20, all of Coram, were charged with smuggling and harboring illegal aliens in an appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Orenstein in federal court in Central Islip. All three were held without bail.

The arrests came during raids early Monday on three houses owned by the couple: their home in Coram and homes in Brentwood and Amityville, where authorities found 69 aliens, including 13 children, living in what were described as squalid conditions.

"These aliens were held in virtual servitude as they paid off their debts, proving that smugglers are more interested in profits than people," said Martin Ficke, special agent in charge for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau.

Also seized were a large cache of fake identity documents, Peruvian passports, ledgers reflecting payment of smuggling fees and other financial documents, prosecutors said. Two bank accounts used by the defendants also were confiscated.

A complaint unsealed Monday alleged the scheme was taking place since at least December 2000, with more than 100 people entering the country illegally. Zavala and her husband allegedly charged between $6,000 and $7,500 to obtain U.S. tourist visas for the aliens without them having to undergo the required interview and screening.

Ficke said sometimes the aliens were given documents that the couple obtained fraudulently, while in other cases forged papers were provided. The investigation into who was helping the couple obtain the documents in Peru is continuing, and additional arrests were possible, he said.

Ibanez allegedly provided the Peruvians on Long Island with phony alien registration and Social Security cards, which they used to get jobs at factories and other businesses. The aliens were forced to turn their paychecks over to the defendants, who kept most of the pay, leaving them with about $50 a week to support their families, prosecutors said.

The rest of the paychecks allegedly went toward paying off the debt for the visas.

The couple allegedly kept the aliens in line by threatening to turn them over to immigration authorities if they failed to pay, prosecutors said. In at least one case, they also allegedly threatened to harm one alien's relatives in Peru.

If convicted, Zavala and Ibanez each could face up to 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000; their daughter could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Their attorneys declined to comment following the court proceeding in Central Islip.

Ficke said the 69 aliens taken into custody will be screened individually over the next several weeks to determine their status and possibly assist in the investigation. They are being held in the New York metropolitan area.

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