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©02 The Media Desk
It was just like the old days.
I was sitting in the attic crawlspace of a nearly deserted apartment house in a middle sized city in Pennsylvania watching a construction site across the street with a whole electronics store worth of equipment spread out around me.
All day Friday and Saturday I took pictures of the workers on the site, then at night I compared them with the record started by another agent two weeks ago. But that wasn't why I was here. As I identified the workers I built a file on a disk to use later in the investigation.
It was suspected that the contractor was using illegal immigrants as slave labor. But so far, nobody had been able to prove anything.
Immigration had been all over them, the FBI had called in the owner, the local police had tried a sting, but nothing worked. As far as the authorities were concerned, they were clean.
Early Sunday morning I got into the construction site trailer with a spare key that happened to be in my possession. But there was nothing worthwhile in there.
Monday I went back to my day job and sorted evidence between work there.
That Friday I was back in the attic. Taking more pictures.
And I saw what they were talking about. There had been almost an entire changeover in the laborers on the site. The supervisors and skilled workers were mostly the same, but the guy pushing the wheelbarrow was different. So was the ones carrying the shingles.
OK. So it was up to me.
This time I went for the company's main office.
Monday I got into their electronic files by jumping over their firewall on their Web site.
According to their personnel records, they only had forty-eight employees. Their bios were on file. Complete with all the papers they needed, including pictures.
I looked at my data. I had pictures on about sixty different people working at that site from the other agent's pictures, and now mine.
The only way I could explain it was that the ID's stayed with the company, and the people changed. They all looked quite a bit alike, but they were different. A parade of men of Hispanic background all about the same age and build.
But where did they come from, and, where did they go?
There had to be more of a paper trail. And besides, it was almost too easy to get to the information in their computers.
It may have satisfied the FBI, but I wasn't buying it.
I would have to physically get into their office to get to the bottom of this.
But if all the rest of these agencies had been through there. The stuff we needed wasn't likely to be lying out in the open.
Come Friday I was back at the construction site, but instead of watching the workers, I watched the bosses. I tailed several of them around before I decided who was the one to watch.
Then I followed him like a bloodhound.
Saturday evening he stopped by someplace peculiar. A lawyer's office.
After awhile, he went home.
He had his briefcase when he went in, but not when he came out.
What would a construction manager be doing at a lawyer's office on a Friday night anyway? And what would be in his briefcase that would be of interest enough to the lawyer to leave there.
I gave up following the workers and followed the briefcase.
Monday I called off work and waited. The briefcase came out and went to the main office. Then back to the site. I noticed several new faces in the labor force.
I managed to get a small tracking device on the briefcase at lunch. Then I dropped back and tracked it from a distance. I turned over the tracking to a local FBI stringer and went back to work.
That weekend I again documented that a few of the faces changed after the briefcase spent the weekend at the lawyer's office. And the most damning of all, while the names and vital statistics stayed the same on their file system on their mainframe, the pictures changed.
My case began to build against the contractor. But I wasn't worried that much about him. I wanted the supplier, and the receiver. The people stayed here about three weeks, four at most. Where were they going?
I uploaded my pictures to the Bishop to put out to other agencies. Hopefully one of the former workers would have touched the official information stream someplace and left a footprint.
It was some tedious work, but I had an open and shut case against the contractor. But we held onto it, trying to get the whole pipeline. I had bits and pieces of the puzzle.
The illegals came in through California, New Orleans, Miami. Then they moved into a huge well-organized system. Eventually working through my construction site, then moving on. But who coordinated all this, and where they were, was a mystery. From here, the workers seemed to go mostly west. To agricultural labor, or other labor-intensive work.
The construction site was wrapping up. The townhouses were almost done. I was afraid we'd loose our fish, then I found out they were starting on a remodeling job on a shopping center just outside of town. That weekend I saw some of the workers out there, tearing down drywall and scraping up tile.
I spent the next weekend doing some more backtracking on the information we had. One of the ones I had photographed last month had been picked up after a bar fight in Dallas. He had been working cotton. Another showed up on an immigration raid at a poultry plant in Delaware. It seemed like they went everywhere from here, just as they came in from everywhere.
Then I got the break I was needing. The Louisiana State Police wanted one of the new workers for questioning, and had posted his picture. I pursued that lead with glee. The suspect was believed to have moved to New York under an alias, but had dropped out of sight. He wasn't out of sight, he was refinishing concrete across the road. I immediately tapped into their corporate computer to check on the gentleman.
The next day the local police scooped him up and confirmed he was the one wanted down south.
Of course the contractor claimed he had no idea the man was hot and showed us his papers within the hour.
But something strange turned up on the papers. Somebody, somehow, had replaced a couple of the numbers with the character code for smiley faces. So when they printed them out to cover themselves. The picture of Enrico Hornandez was assigned a totally bogus number.
Heat gathered around the contractor and the only way out was to start singing like a diva.
The Immigration folks began a sweep across a dozen states and even into Canada where some of our workers turned up on fishing boats.
And I went back to work testing video games and thinking about another sort of alien. Aliens that were us.
But with purple blood.
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