[Editor’s Note: today’s post is brought to you by guest blogger Bruce Buchanan, an immigration attorney in the Nashville, TN office of Siskind Susser PC.]
In a continuing trend of higher fines and forfeitures, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced ABC Professional Tree Services Inc. (ABC) had agreed to pay $2 million as forfeited funds to the Department of Homeland Security and adhere to revised immigration compliance procedures in return for the government agreeing not to criminally prosecute the company.
ABC is a Houston-based company that provides right of way vegetation management for electric utilities in more than a dozen states. ICE-HSI agents, in Birmingham, Alabama, began investigating ABC in early 2008 following complaints that a significant portion of the company’s employees were undocumented aliens. In March 2008, agents conducted traffic stops on ABC crews and detained employees, who were determined to be unlawfully present in the United States.
In June 2008, ICE-HSI agents reviewed the I-9 forms and supporting documentation for about 2,500 employees at ABC. The inspection revealed a significant number of employees had presented invalid personal identification documents, such as permanent resident cards, work authorization cards, and driver licenses, at the time of hire. As of the second quarter of 2009, about 30 % of the workforce was determined by ICE to be undocumented workers.
On March 4, 2010, ICE-HSI agents executed a search warrant at ABC’s Houston headquarters seizing employment and personnel records. Additionally, agents detained undocumented workers, who were on site at the headquarters. More undocumented ABC employees were detained during a traffic stop in Birmingham on that same day.
The government’s investigation revealed ABC had ignored federal law for years, by falsely attesting on I-9s that work authorization documents presented by new hires appeared genuine. In addition, for several years, ABC had received “no-match letters” from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and similar information from the company’s payroll processor, both of which indicated employee names and Social Security numbers did not match SSA records. However, the company failed to take corrective measures, resulting in the continued employment of the undocumented aliens.
ABC derived at least $2 million in revenue from the provision of services to electrical utilities with its undocumented workforce from 2006 through 2011. This figure represents the amount of money that ABC agreed to forfeit to the government.
Since September 2008, ABC has used E-Verify to verify the employment eligibility of new hires. Beginning in the fall of 2008, the company also revised its immigration compliance procedures to include new policies concerning the proper completion, retention and auditing of I-9s and for responding to SSA no-match letters. Furthermore, ABC has terminated hundreds of undocumented workers.
Just in 2012, ICE-HSI has fined or agreed to forfeitures at the following companies or business executives in these amounts (only listing those of $100,000 or more): Atrium Companies – $2 million; Advanced Containment Systems Inc. (ACSI) – $2 million; HerbCo – $1 million; Sun Drywall and Stucco, Inc. – $225,000; two executives of LTCI Ltd. – $223,000; and J & J Industrial Supply – $150,000.
Disclaimer: The content of this post does not constitute direct legal advice and is designed for informational purposes only. Information provided through this website should never replace the need for involving informed counsel on your employment and immigration issues.