The Washington Post
February 11, 2000

Man Found Guilty in Slave Case

Md. Couple Brought Woman From Brazil

                  By Ruben Castaneda
                  Washington Post Staff Writer
                  Friday, February 11, 2000; Page B01

                  A Gaithersburg man charged with keeping a Brazilian woman as a "live-in
                  slave" for nearly 20 years was convicted in U.S. District Court in
                  Greenbelt yesterday of violating immigration laws in connection with his
                  treatment of the woman.

                  The jury deliberated about seven hours over two days before finding Rene
                  R. Bonetti guilty of all three immigration law felonies with which he was
                  charged: conspiring to harbor an undocumented alien, harboring an
                  undocumented alien for financial gain and endangering the life of an
                  undocumented alien he harbored.

                  Bonetti did not react outwardly as the verdict was read. At the request of
                  Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach, who argued that Bonetti
                  was a risk to flee the country, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow
                  ordered him taken into custody immediately.

                  Bonetti, 51, who faces a maximum prison sentence of 35 years, had been
                  free on $50,000 bond since he was indicted by a federal grand jury last
                  September. Chasanow scheduled sentencing for May 15.

                  Bonetti was convicted of harboring and abusing Hilda Rosa Dos Santos,
                  who came to the United States in 1979 to work for Bonetti and his wife,

                  Federal officials say that thousands of foreign domestic workers like Dos
                  Santos are brought into the United States by their employers and abused.

                  Maryland U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said she hopes the conviction
                  of Bonetti will make people think twice about abusing people like Dos

                  "People sometimes forget that there are dire consequences to basically
                  holding people in slavery in this country," Battaglia said in an interview.

                  "We see this woman as representing the most vulnerable segment of our
                  population. This is one of those cases which called out for federal
                  involvement," Battaglia said.

                  Margarida Bonetti, 46, who was indicted on charges of abusing Dos
                  Santos, fled the United States and is now in her native Brazil, according to
                  testimony during the trial. Dos Santos had worked for Margarida Bonetti's
                  family in Brazil since 1961, according to court testimony.

                  Dos Santos, 65, illiterate in her native Portuguese and unable to speak
                  English, testified through interpreters that Margarida Bonetti assaulted her
                  repeatedly while Rene Bonetti did nothing to help Dos Santos, except to
                  suggest that she pray for his wife.

                  She also testified that she was never paid for the cleaning, cooking and
                  yardwork she did for the Bonettis and that her employers did not get her
                  medical treatment for a large stomach tumor and a gaping open wound in
                  her leg that became infected.

                  Dos Santos lived in a small, windowless basement, while the Bonettis, who
                  padlocked their refrigerator to keep Dos Santos out of it, lived in the large,
                  comfortable upstairs part of the house, according to court testimony.

                  Rene Bonetti, a native of Brazil, is now a U.S. citizen. John C. Maginnis,
                  his attorney, said his client was "completely at peace" with the verdict and
                  expressed concern for Dos Santos.

                  Bonetti testified that neither he nor his wife ever abused Dos Santos, whom
                  he characterized as a longtime family friend who was incompetent at
                  housecleaning tasks. He testified that he knew Dos Santos's temporary
                  visa was expiring in the early 1980s and urged her to take steps to become
                  legalized and took her word for it when she said she had.

                  In her closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mythili Raman described
                  Bonetti's defense as "an intricate web of lies." She pointed out that Bonetti
                  had admitted during cross-examination that he had lied to the U.S.
                  Immigration and Naturalization Service and FBI Special Agent Don Niely,
                  who helped investigate the case.

                  "He confessed, ladies and gentlemen," Raman said.

                  Dos Santos finally left the Bonetti home in April 1998, when neighbors
                  took her to a hospital to have her tumor, which prosecutors described as
                  the size of a soccer ball, surgically removed. The tumor was benign.

                  It was then that social workers learned of Dos Santos's plight, and the FBI
                  and INS began to investigate while Montgomery Couty's Department of
                  Adult Protective Services stepped in to help the woman.

                  Dos Santos, who according to court testimony was given away by her
                  birth mother and has no family in Brazil, was granted temporary legal status
                  to testify against Bonetti. It could not be learned yesterday whether she
                  plans to petition the INS to stay in the United States.

                           © Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company