MEXICO CITY (AP) – Federal and state police officers raided a group home Tuesday in the western state of Michoacan and rescued 458 children who were forced to beg for money and suffered sexual abuse while being against their will in filthy conditions, Mexico’s top prosecutor said.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said police also rescued 138 adults from “La Gran Familia” (The Great Family) group home in the city of Zamora.
The residents were kept in deplorable conditions, fed rotten food and made to sleep on the floor among rats, ticks and fleas and many of them were never allowed to leave the premises, Murillo Karam said at a news conference attended by top federal investigators and Michoacan Gov. Salvador Jara.
“I’m in utter dismay because we weren’t expecting the conditions we found at the group home,” Jara said.
Police detained the home’s owner, Rosa del Carmen Verduzco, and eight workers for questioning, Murillo Karam said.
Verduzco, known in Zamora as “Mama Rosa” or “La Jefa” is a noted local children rights activist whose group home was often visited by politicians. Local media on Wednesday published several photographs of her with former President Vicente Fox and his wife, former Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy and other officials.
The investigation began after five parents filed complaints last year with authorities because they weren’t allowed to see their children at the home, Jara said.
One of the parents was a woman who grew up and gave birth to two children at Great Family, which has been open for 40 years. She was allowed to leave when she was 31-years-old but Verduzco kept the two children, who had been registered under her name, said Tomas Ceron, head of the Criminal Research Agency at the Attorney General’s Office.
The mother of one of the boys held said Wednesday she was only allowed to see her child three times a year and that the home’s owner demanded $2,800 to release him.
Veronica Gamina told The Associated Press by telephone that four years ago she took her then 9-year-old boy to The Great Family group home in the city of Zamora because she had to work and couldn’t take care of him.
But when she returned to reclaim her now 13-year-old boy, “they told me to write letters explaining why I wanted him back, then they asked me for 37,000 pesos ($2,800 USD) but I make 800 pesos ($60) a week and couldn’t get the money together,” Gamina said. She spoke from outside the home, which was being guarded by police, and where she said about 70 parents had gathered.
Gamina, a 28-year-old sandwich shop worker, said she went to authorities after hearing about conditions at the home from someone who escaped.
Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s Office said the children remained in the home Wednesday while authorities made sure they were being fed and looked for places to transfer them. The youngsters were also being checked by doctors.