Missionaries given longer sentences

3 leaders of church in Woodbine retried in immigration case

Children `were betrayed'

Youths traveled to U.S. to study, were put to work cleaning

November 20, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Three Howard County missionaries who won a new trial after pleading guilty to smuggling youngsters into the United States to work in menial jobs were sentenced a second time in federal court in Baltimore yesterday -- and got harsher terms.

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis more than doubled the sentences he imposed in 1999 on Joyce E. Perdue and Robert C. Hendricks, and added three months to Elizabeth Brown's prison term.

Garbis said the evidence he heard during the trial in December worked against the missionaries, showing that they exploited the children they brought from Estonia under the pretense of giving them religious training."[The children] were betrayed. Their parents were betrayed. They were brought over here thinking they were going to be students, and instead they were put to work at menial jobs," Garbis told Perdue's lawyer, John C. Fones.

Garbis sentenced Perdue, 57, to six years; Hendricks, 40, to 6 1/2 years, and Brown, 42, to 15 months.

Garbis said that he considered Perdue, pastor of the Word of Faith World Outreach Church in Woodbine, the one person who profited from the scheme.

He said that Hendricks, the assistant pastor, might have been motivated by "religious fervor," but that he deserved the harshest sentence because his testimony included some of "the most bald-faced pack of lies I've heard in all my years."

Garbis recommended work release for Brown, saying the church administrator never profited from the scheme and was motivated by her religious beliefs.

"Ms. Brown was closer to a victim than she was to a perpetrator," he said.

As leaders of the church, the three defendants did missionary work in Estonia during the 1990s and helped 12 Estonians obtain visas to come to Maryland, promising them Christian schooling and work producing religious materials and translating church services.

But Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bonnie S. Greenberg and Gregory Welsh presented evidence during a weeklong trial showing that when the Estonians arrived, they were put to work cleaning bookstores and apartment buildings, and installing office furniture. They earned $10 to $100 a week working for two businesses tied to the church, Alpha Cleaning Services and Systems Installations, that collected thousands of dollars weekly from their work.

Garbis said the evidence also showed that the defendants mistreated the children, some as young as 13, and lied to Immigration and Naturalization Service investigators about the operation, which was run from Perdue's Woodbine home.

Garbis emphasized that one child was made to stay awake all night, standing by the side of her bed as a disciplinary measure because "she broke a bottle or didn't work hard enough that day."

When a fire marshal showed up to inspect Perdue's home for a required day-care license, Hendricks hid the beds where the children slept to avoid questions about the number of children living there, Garbis said.

"What they did was a total scheme, and they built fraud upon fraud upon fraud," he said.

Yesterday was the second sentencing for the three defendants. In 1999, they pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit visa and immigration fraud. Perdue then was sentenced to 27 months, Hendricks was sentenced to two years, and Brown was given a one-year term.

They won a new trial in April last year when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Garbis should have allowed the defendants to argue that they believed the Estonians' work for the church was not subject to U.S. immigration rules.

Garbis said yesterday the evidence showed that the defendants might have been motivated by religious convictions, but they knew they were breaking the law.

"They knew they were committing a crime," Garbis said. "They were happy to commit the crime to accomplish what they saw as a higher motive."

Garbis allowed the defendants to remain free until Jan. 7.

The defendants declined to comment yesterday.

Fones, Perdue's lawyer, said he plans to appeal.

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