Sting targets laborers
Five arrested after jumping into undercover police truck

LAWRENCEVILLE - Complaints from business owners along Grayson Highway prompted an undercover investigation and the arrest of five Guatemalans seeking landscaping work, police said.

Two members of Lawrenceville Police Department's crime suppression unit, wearing street clothes and driving an unmarked truck, posed as potential employers and arrested the men after they eagerly - and literally - jumped at the chance of a day's work Friday morning, according to a police report.

The men allegedly violated a day-labor prohibition ordinance adopted by the city several years ago. The ordinance stipulates that soliciting labor or picking up laborers without the permission of property owners is illegal, said Lawrenceville police Capt. Greg Vaughn.

"You can only tell some people so many times," Vaughn said. "You've got 15 or 20 guys standing in front of your door, it drives away business.

"I'm not knocking the people for trying to work, but the problem is that the area gets trashed. The businesses just got tired of it."

In this case the business was a QuikTrip gas station in the 600 block of Grayson Highway.

A manager at the gas station had complained that loiterers posed "a hindrance to customers when they approached them, asking for work or for money," the report says.

The two officers parked their truck at the gas station Friday "and gestured (the laborers) to us," one officer wrote. "About five males rushed our truck and started jumping in the back."

The police drove to a predetermined location, trailed by an officer in a cruiser, and arrested all five men without incident.

Each suspect was charged with misdemeanor loitering for day labor. All five men posted bond amounts of just less than $500 and were released from the Gwinnett County Jail over the weekend.

Charged and released were Antelmo Fernandez, 20; Cesar Ramirez Mendez, 21; Juan Gutierrez Najera, 29; Carlos Alberto Perez-Lopez, 43, and Santos Florencio Perez-Segura, 32.

Vaughn said similar busts were more common in recent years, but the frequency of loitering for work "doesn't seem as bad as it used to be." He was unsure of the immigration status of each man. He said their fingerprints were checked against a national database at the jail before they were released.

A manager at the QuikTrip station, who wished to remain anonymous, said loiterers are a recurring nuisance for his customers. The sting went quietly enough Friday that the manager wasn't aware it had taken place, he said.

"It's more or less customers complaining," he said. "After we ask them several times to leave, Lawrenceville (police) usually takes care of it for us."

The business is dotted with signs both in English and Spanish stating that loitering for day labor is illegal.