Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Falsely Accused, and Trying to Prevent a Repeat Episode

A sobering note in the midst of the witch hunters' bowl...

A reputation is a fragile and precious thing.

It's true if you're a poor synagogue caretaker, and it's true if you're a Westchester lawyer.

Just ask Alfredo Vargas and Andrew M. Labella. Mr. Vargas was the loyal, indispensable caretaker at Congregation Adat Yisrael until his life was ruined in 2000 by a false accusation of raping a 4-year-old girl.

He was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to prison, then granted a new trial after congregants and other supporters, convinced that he could not have committed the crime and saying the girl's family had a history of alleging sexual abuse, rallied to his defense.

At the second trial last year, after the girl picked out two jurors as her assailant, he was acquitted but then deported to Nicaragua because he was in the United States illegally. (He entered legally in 1969 but failed to maintain legal status.)

Mr. Vargas, 69, now living with a sister in Nicaragua, won't get his old life back. The congregation has disbanded. He's not likely to return to the United States. He contracted lymphoma in prison and has had difficulty finding any work in Nicaragua.



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