After numerous investigations by the Department of Children and Families dating back to 2003
, Lee County sheriff’s deputies have arrested Noemi Ramos, 40, of south Fort Myers. She is being held on $200,000 bond, and her arraignment is pending.
The four youngest of Ramos’ five daughters, ages 9 to 20, have been placed in the care of Andres David Contreras, 32, the father of the two youngest. In a 2007 domestic violence injunction request, Ramos accused him of sexual assault and threatening to mutilate her mother’s face and run over her oldest daughter with a car. Her oldest daughter was a witness.
Ramos later dropped the request, saying Contreras met with counselors from the Abuse Counseling & Treatment Center, a battered person’s shelter.
DCF spokesman Terry Field in Tampa said he could not talk specifically about Contreras’ background, but said it is protocol to conduct a home study and background checks before sheltering children.
Carlos Fuentes, 40, who lives next to door to Ramos’ Pine Manor home, said that months ago Ramos claimed that someone kidnapped her 15-year-old daughter, and the suspect posted fliers throughout the neighborhood.
In reality, the teen had run away, according to the warrant. The same girl told her sisters she cuts herself to numb the pain, and another broke down in sobs, telling an interviewer: “Memories of the things (her mother) had done to her were very painful; she said that she was not trying to recall the things she had done, but rather trying to forget.”
Ramos’ family defends her.
“She would rather die than do something like that,” said her mother, Tavita Medero of Lehigh Acres.
In July, DCF sent the girls to live with Medero for a month while they investigated Ramos for abuse. At the time, Ramos’ oldest daughter was living there. Medero and her son, Jorge Ramos, questioned the girls about the allegations, including the prostitution. All denied it, she said, and pleaded to return to their mother.
Jorge Ramos said he believes some of the allegations stem from a custody battle with Contreras. Noemi Ramos and Contreras are still married, but have been separated for two years.
“When (the girls are) here, they say one thing, when they’re there they say another,” Jorge Ramos said.
The family knew Noemi Ramos was addicted to drugs
, Jorge Ramos said. After a fall at a grocery store last year, she was prescribed painkillers. After the pills ran out, he said, his sister couldn’t kick the habit, and was seeking drug counseling at Southwest Florida Addiction Services.
Noemi Ramos has a history of abusive relationships, her brother said. She was kidnapped at age 11
while the family lived in Buffalo, N.Y. For the past few years, he said his sister has been clinically depressed — so much so that she has been unable to work. She was on disability until recently, her brother said.
“She’s had her problems, but she would do anything for her children,” Jorge Ramos said.
But Detective Zaleski saw it differently, and said Noemi Ramos showed a classic behavior pattern of human traffickers:
“She allowed them to be treated as objects rather than people and citizens with rights.”