A Key Colony Beach man convicted on human smuggling charges in 2017 is out on bond pending appeal, arguing that had he not been pulled over in 2014 for suspicion of illegal dumping in Marathon, authorities never would have found a South American woman who was one of several he illegally imported into the country over a three-year window.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Lawrence Blessinger, 68, on a felony dumping charge after his Lincoln Mark LT pickup was seen parked next to a 6-foot-high, 8-foot-long pile of tree debris at the end of Pescayo Avenue off Coco Plum Drive in Marathon in December 2014.
The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office ended up dropping the charge after Blessinger successfully appealed to suppress the Sheriff’s Office deputies’ evidence, arguing the initial stop was unlawful. But also in the Lincoln was a 42-year-old Paraguayan woman named Maria Elizabeth Ortega.
After the arrest, U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents investigated Blessinger and his girlfriend, Janet Meadows. According to court documents, they discovered the couple sailed their boat from the Keys to the Bahamas to pick up women from Paraguay and employ them as domestic servants in their Florida and New York homes. This went on between 2012 and 2015, according to court documents.
Meadows pleaded guilty in April 2017 to two counts of encouraging and inducing “aliens to and reside in the United States.” She was sentenced to three years probation. Blessinger pleaded guilty to two counts of bringing “aliens to the United States not at a designated port of entry.”
He was sentenced in June 2017 to one year in prison and three years of probation. But he appealed his case and is free on $250,000 bond. A large part of his appeal goes back to the 2014 illegal dumping arrest.
“As a result of the stop, Mr. Blessinger was prosecuted in State Court for the illegal dumping of landscaping debris and he was prosecuted in this court for the transportation of the aliens, stemming from the fact that one of the aliens in this case was a passenger in his truck at the time of the stop,” his attorney Howard Srebnick wrote in an Aug. 1, 2017, motion for bond. “In both cases, Mr. Blessinger moved to suppress all of the evidence gathered by the police on the grounds that the initial traffic stop was unlawful.”
Blessinger and Meadows have homes in Key Colony Beach and on Long Island in New York.
According to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security arrest affidavit, Blessinger and Meadows brought three women from the Bahamas to the Key Colony Beach house between 2012 and 2015. All three women were citizens of Paraguay who flew to the Bahamas before being picked up and taken to Florida on Blessinger's boats.
Federal agents arrested Blessinger and Meadows on Nov. 25, 2015.
According to the arrest report, the first woman to come to the states to work for Blessinger and Meadows flew from Paraguay to Spain to the Bahamas on Aug. 8, 2012. Meadows met her at the airport there, and Blessinger picked both women up and sailed them to Miami on his boat, Lazy Daze.
From Miami, the Paraguayan woman was flown to New York.
The woman told agents she was originally paid $400 a week for her work as a domestic servant. Blessinger charged her $500 to bring her into the country, according to court papers. He deducted $50 a week until the balance was paid. She worked for Blessinger and Meadows in their New York and Keys homes until the summer of 2015.
The second woman told agents that Blessinger smuggled her into the country in April 2015. She and another woman flew from Paraguay to the Bahamas on April 2, 2015, where they stayed at a local hotel. On April 20, 2015, Blessinger took the women to Key Colony Beach on his other boat, the Odds & Ends.
The second woman told agents that Blessinger paid her $500 a week to work at his home on Long Island. He charged her $2,000 to bring her into the country, according to court records.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204