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  1. Texas Tortilla Company Convicted of Employment of Undocumented Workers

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC
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    La Espiga De Oro (Espiga), manufacturer of tortillas for distribution to restaurants and businesses, forfeited $1 million because of a felony conviction of conspiracy to induce and encourage unlawful immigration through a pattern and practice of hiring and employing illegal aliens at the Texas tortilla factory. Owners Alfredo Sosa Lira, his wife Lydia Botello-Lira, their daughter Lydia Lira, and night manager Roberto Guerra, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor violations associated with their continued employment of undocumented aliens between October 2011 and August 2015.

    Homeland Security Investigations investigated a series of complaints about the company’s hiring practices. An undercover operation later led to evidence that the company knowingly hired individuals not authorized to work in the United States. In some instances, the company knew that aliens used fraudulent documents to secure employment.

    HSI executed a search warrant at the company in August 2015, which led to the discovery of 10 undocumented workers working there as well as evidence demonstrating that 55% of their employees were not authorized by law to work at the factory. Following the search warrant, the company was charged by criminal complaint and began cooperating with HSI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to revise their hiring practices and implement new procedures to prevent future violations of federal law.

    The company paid $1 million, representing an amount that at least equals the value of property used to facilitate the crime, the value of wages paid to the unauthorized work force and the value of products manufactured and services provided by the illegal workforce during the conspiracy. This money will go directly to immigration authorities to assist them with their future enforcement efforts.
  2. Asplundh Manager & Supervisors Charged with hiring Undocumented Workers

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law, PLLC

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    Federal prosecutors charged three managers/supervisors of Asplundh Tree Expert Inc. with conspiring to hire undocumented workers using false identification and Social Security numbers. Asplundh, a nationwide company, removes brush and vegetation from electric and gas lines.

    In 2009, Asplundh had their I-9 forms audited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ICE audit determined over 100 employees were undocumented; thus, Asplundh fired the employees.

    After the ICE audit of Asplundh’s I-9 forms, prosecutors allege workers, fired for being undocumented, were rehired under false identities. Larry Gauger, a regional manager charged with conspiracy, "instructed management that it would have 'plausible deniability' as to the fraudulent hiring because even though the employees' Social Security numbers did not truly belong to these employees, the employees' proffered Social Security numbers would be positive matches in the E-Verify database." Jude Solis and Juan Rodriguez, supervisors for Asplundh, were also charged with conspiracy and fraud.

    These indictments are clear proof that knowingly hiring undocumented workers can have criminal consequences. This is especially so when you assist the undocumented workers to obtain fake ID.
  3. Restaurant Owner Going to Prison for Harboring Undocumented Workers

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    An owner of two restaurants in Ukiah, California, Yaowapha Ritdet, was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison for harboring for profit and corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the internal revenue laws. According to documents filed with the court, Ritdet hired Thai nationals who were illegally present in the United States to work at her restaurants, Ruen Tong Thai Cuisine and Walter Café. Ritdet underpaid these employees, paid them in cash, and instructed them not to speak to anyone about their immigration status. Ritdet also did not pay employment taxes on the cash wages. Ritdet filed false individual income tax returns for 2007 through 2011 that underreported the gross receipts, sales, and income she received from her two restaurants.

    In addition to prison, Ritdet was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to pay approximately $567,755.65 in restitution, including $70,768 to underpaid employees and $496,987 to the Internal Revenue Service.
  4. Waste Management Supervisors Going to Prison for Unlawful Hiring Scheme

    By Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law PLLC

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    Two low-level Houston supervisors of Waste Management, Rudy Martinez and Israel Arquimides Martinez, were sentenced to over seven years in federal prison for stealing the identities of U.S. citizens and using them to hire more than 100 undocumented workers. The men both face deportation upon completion of their prison sentences.

    The two men were convicted by a federal jury in April 2016 of 18 counts, including knowingly conspiring to employ unauthorized immigrants, encouraging them to reside in the U.S., and aggravated identity theft. Additionally, Rudy Martinez, was convicted of obstruction of justice by testifying falsely under oath and threatening a witness. Three higher ranking managers at Waste Management took plea deals and were called to testify by the prosecution.

    The undocumented workers involved in the identity theft scheme worked at a site run by a Waste Management subcontractor. The workers were fired and then rehired in 2012 with other people's identities. Some of these workers, who face deportation, also testified about the hiring scheme.

    This is another example of the potential for criminal liability if one knowingly hires many undocumented workers, especially where identity theft is used.
  5. Restaurant owner pleads guilty to harboring unauthorized workers

    By: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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    A restaurant owner pleaded guilty to harboring undocumented workers for profit and tax evasion, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation.

    Yaowapha Ritdet of Ukiah, California admitted she knowingly hired Thai nationals who were illegally present in the United States to work at her restaurants, Ruen Tong Thai Cuisine and the Walter Café.

    Ritdet further admitted she underpaid employees and instructed them not to speak to anyone about their immigration status and willfully filed false individual income tax returns for 2007 through 2011, failing to disclose income received from her two restaurants, as well as rental income and a foreign bank account. She also admitted failing to accurately report employment taxes for her restaurant workers, who were paid in cash. Ritdet is scheduled to be sentenced on February 22, 2017.
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