Local News

Scam Victims Were Just Trying to Help

Posted July 25, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— Fourteen adults and three children were forced to peddle trinkets to anyone for cash. Authorities say they were lured by the promise of freedom, but ended up being held captive. So where did they sell their goods? At malls, stores and even the streets. Chances are you may have been approached.

The Mexicans were paid $5.00, and were apparently promised half of all the money they could raise. Why would anyone give money to a total stranger? Chances are, if someone was tugging on your heart strings, you might give them just about anything.

Fred Murchison thought he was helping someone in need when he gave $1.00 to a deaf man in a Sanford parking lot. Murchison says he's the kind of person who likes to help someone out.

For his donation, he got a printed card and a keychain. Federal immigration agents say it was just a scam. Agents found 17 Mexicans in two Sanford homes. Thirteen of them were deaf. INS says they were held in virtual slavery, forced to sell cards and keychains and getting little or nothing for their labor.

A similar raid took place in New York City on Monday. Most people are surprised something similar would happen in Sanford.

Laresia Farrington recalled hearing about the New York story, but never imagined slave labor could go on in her community.

At least two times in as many months, Mexicans selling the same trinkets have been asked to leave the Crabtree Valley Mall parking lot. Federal agents say the deaf Mexicans applied their trade in other locations like Greensboro, Burlington, and Fayetteville, reportedly driven there by a deaf couple who lived with them in Sanford.

Wanda Wilkins says she almost ignored a woman who approached her outside a local grocery store. Wilkins says she wasn't going to give the woman anything, but then thought that maybe she really is deaf and is in need. So, Wilkins handed over the money.

When this group is finished, victims of the scam worry they might be able to hurt others down the road. Murchison says the wrongful doing in Sanford may prevent others from giving to legitimate organizations who help people who really are in need.

The people taken to Charlotte after Friday's raid won't face immediate exportation. There will be a hearing on their legal residency status. At least two of the 17 were trying to become permanent residents of the United States.