News: Forced-labor reports spur raid

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Melanie Orhant (mgo6@cornell.edu)
Tue, 20 Oct 1998 17:26:27 -0500


Forced-labor reports spur raid
By Mike McPhee, Denver Post Staff Writer
Denver Post, October 16, 1998

Oct. 16 - Acting on reports of a forced-labor camp in a stone quarry north
of Lyons, federal agents led a predawn stealth raid earlier this month that
netted a handful of illegal immigrants but saw as many as 50 others scatter
over the rocky terrain.

The 50 to 60 workers, who were living in what federal authorities described
as "filthy, dirty conditions with no plumbing,'' hid until dawn when the
agents finally left with only six undocumented immigrants, who were taken
to an Immigration and Naturalization Service holding center in Aurora.

The agents were executing a search warrant based on a number of anonymous
phone calls and intelligence gathered from confidential informants working
this past summer in the Blue Mountain Stone quarry on Beech Hill in Larimer
County, a few miles north of Lyons.

According to the search warrant, the Mexican nationals working in the
quarry were not being paid until the end of the season, if at all, and were
living in converted school buses, trailers and campers.

Authorities said they were worried that the workers might flee at the sight
of federal agents coming into the camp, despite their squalid living
conditions. They said their fear was that workers might be injured while
fleeing, even falling off cliffs or down steep embankments, justifying the
need for an early-morning surprise visit.

The owners of the quarry, Manuel Vasquez and his two sons, Abe and Raul
Vasquez, live on the only two roads entering the quarry and constantly
watch for law enforcement, according to a federal document. In fact, Raul
Vasquez routinely begins patrolling the area at 4 a.m. each day.

With that in mind, the agents entered the work camp at 3 a.m. Oct. 1.

"Please don't put this in the paper,'' said Abe Vasquez, when reached by
telephone. "I don't even want to think about it. I just want it to get
over. Our attorney told us not to say nothing.'' He declined to give the
name of his attorney.

"The living conditions were very bad. It was dirty, filthy, with no
plumbing. They had to use outdoor facilities,'' said INS agent George
Matheos. "The workers were living in trailers, campers, converted buses.''

INS authorities said the six illegal immigrants transported to Aurora were
being held pending charges.

No charges have been filed against the Vasquez family as INS officers and
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheila Rogers continue negotiations with them.

The quarries, which mine the very brittle sandstone and flagstone, are in
the process of shutting down for the winter as the stone becomes too
difficult to quarry in cold weather. The best example of the stone, other
than sidewalk stones, are the stone buildings on the University of
Colorado's Boulder campus, which are made exclusively of Lyons sandstone.

The investigation began when the Mexican Consulate in Denver alerted the
FBI that there were numerous undocumented immigrants working "possibly
against their will'' in the quarries outside of Lyons, which is about 20
miles north of Boulder. Anonymous callers said many of the workers were not
being paid and not allowed to leave because Raul Vasquez "locked the gates
and fences leading into and out of the quarry,'' according to a search
warrant.

Undercover FBI agents entered the work camp.

"The workers stated that they were not being paid in full for their weekly
work; instead they had a running account with their bosses. The bosses had
made arrangements to pay the workers their full wages upon the completion
of the work season, which would end around the first or second snowfall of
the year.

Abe Vasquez told the undercover agents that his employees mostly came from
Queretaro, about 100 miles northwest of Mexico City.

An informant inside the quarry told the INS that a foreman had taken a
number of the employees to Denver in a truck where they were given
counterfeit immigrant-registration receipt cards, according to the warrant
affidavit.

The informant said 50 people were employed at the quarry on Beech Hill, 95
percent of whom were illegal immigrants. He said all the workers are paid
in cash.

According to Colorado Department of Labor and Employment records, Blue
Mountain Stone reported only 13 employees working at all six of its
quarries during the fourth quarter of 1997. In the first quarter of 1998,
Blue Mountain Stone reported only seven employees, although the quarries
slow their operations in cold weather.

Of those employees, five were from the Vasquez family and another worker
had a false Social Security number, according to the warrant. Two of the
seven workers from 1997 had false Social Security numbers.

Boulder County sheriff's Deputy Pamela Housh said the town of Lyons was
founded on the sandstone quarries. "Lyons sandstone is known
internationally. It's shipped everywhere in the country,'' she said. The
quarries make up "a substantial'' part of the local economy, with several
families owning the vast majority of the quarries.

She said the Vasquez family has owned its quarries for at least three
generations.

Melanie Orhant

Co-Director
Human Trafficking Program
Global Survival Network

P.O. Box 73214
Washington, DC 20009
T: 387-0028
F: 387-2590
Email: morhant@igc.org
www.globalsurvival.net


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