Court interpreters in demand, expensive

abeam@thestate.com, jmonk@thestate.comApril 15, 2007 

Federal court cases requiring interpreters — many involving Mexicans accused of bringing illegal drugs into South Carolina — are skyrocketing.

Since 2000, 684 defendants have required interpreters in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina — more than seven times the number of defendants who needed an interpreter from 1985 to 2000.

Overall, since 1985, about half of all defendants requiring an interpreter were facing drug charges, the most of any offense.

One pending federal interpreter case has 24 defendants accused of trafficking “black tar” heroin from Mexico to South Carolina. Translating the evidence, which includes 540 hours of recordings and nearly 10,000 pages of documents, will cost taxpayers about $500,000.

“It’s the first (case) of this size that I’ve seen in South Carolina,” said Elizabeth Carico, a Charlotte-based, federally certified court interpreter who is one of the translators working on the case.

The court’s docket isn’t slowing down. In 2006, federal prosecutors opened cases involving interpreters against:

• Seven Hispanic men accused of operating a large cocaine ring in Jasper and Beaufort counties

• Five Hispanic men accused of moving multikilograms of cocaine from Atlanta into Greenville and Spartanburg counties

• Three Hispanic men accused of smuggling cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana into Greer; police recovered an Uzi machine pistol.

“It’s certainly a growth industry,” said Judge Joe Anderson, the chief federal judge for South Carolina. “It’s a growing part of our budget each year.”

Reach Beam at (803) 771-8405. Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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