News/USA: Accused slavery ring member sentenced to 2 years in prison

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Subject: News/USA: Accused slavery ring member sentenced to 2 years in prison
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Oct 01 1999 - 13:58:21 EDT


Accused slavery ring member sentenced to 2 years in prison
By Jill Higgins
Naples (Fla.) Daily News, September 8, 1999

A federal magistrate sentenced a Collier County man Tuesday to two years in
a federal prison for his part in a farmworker slavery ring - a sentence
that the prosecutor said reflects a continuing effort to wipe out abuse of
alien workers in Southwest Florida.

At a hearing in Tampa, Justice Steven Merryday ordered Basilio Cuello, 34,
of Immokalee, to also serve three years of supervised release once he
completes his two-year term. In addition, Cuello must also undergo
alcohol-abuse treatment.

Cuello was arrested April 28, along with his brother, Abel Cuello, and
Herman Covarrubias, after some workers in Immokalee escaped and complained
of extortion and abuse. After his arrest, Cuello entered a plea of guilty
in a plea agreement with authorities. The other two, who also entered pleas
of guilty, are set to be sentenced in the next six weeks.

The trio is accused of smuggling 27 Mexican nationals to work and live in
squalor after they paid exorbitant smugglers' fees. Investigators say the
workers were charged $7,000 in so-called "coyote fees" and then were told
they could not leave the crowded trailers they lived in until that money
and more was paid off.

Malloy said the sentence meets federal sentencing guidelines that call for
substantial time in prison for such crimes. He added that investigators are
continuing to work on the problem of slavery among illegal immigrants.

"The investigation does not end and should not end here," he said, adding
only that a fourth suspect continues to elude investigators who have
tracked him since the springtime arrests.

According to court documents, that suspect, known as "El Chacal," forced
the workers to lie on the floor of the van during the trip that ended in
Immokalee. If they were stopped by immigration authorities, the documents
said, the workers were ordered to tell officials that they had all pitched
in to buy the truck and were on their way to Kentucky.

The case drew attention to what immigration officials say is a problem that
is difficult to tackle and involves hundreds of potential victims who risk
their lives to come to this country for work.

During hearings held immediately after the arrests, immigration officers
testified that the workers, including some children, arrived in Immokalee
after several days of confinement in a van where they had no bathroom
facilities and barely any food or water.

Melanie Orhant
morhant@igc.org
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