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I-9 E-Verify Immigration Compliance

Asplundh Tree Experts Agrees to pay $95 Million for Illegal Hiring

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BY: Bruce Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

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Asplundh Tree Experts has agreed to pay $95 million concerning the employment of undocumented workers. This is the largest monetary penalty ever levied by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an immigration case. Based on Asplundh Tree Experts Company’s guilty plea in federal court, the Court imposed a sentence of $80 million forfeiture money judgment. Pursuant to a separate Civil Settlement Agreement, Asplundh will pay an additional $15 million dollars to satisfy civil claims arising out of their failure to comply with immigration law.

Asplundh, an industry leader in tree trimming and brush clearance for power and gas lines, headquartered in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to unlawfully employing aliens, regarding a scheme in which the highest levels of Asplundh management remained willfully blind while lower level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States.

Court documents show the hiring system was developed after a 2009 I-9 inspection by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which revealed Asplundh employed workers who were ineligible to work in the country. Asplundh fired at least 100 of them, but a regional manager, Larry Gauger, later instructed supervisors to hire some of them back by accepting fake forms of identification, including permanent resident cards or Social Security cards. Gauger knew the dismissed employees within his region were being re-hired under different and false names and false identity documentation and encouraged his supervisors and general foreman to continue this practice.

Thereafter, the investigation revealed Asplundh decentralized its hiring so Sponsors (the highest levels of management) could remain willfully blind while Supervisors and General Foremen (2nd and 3rd level supervisors) hired ineligible workers, including unauthorized aliens, in the field. Hiring was by word of mouth referrals rather than through any systematic application process. This manner of hiring enabled Supervisors and General Foremen to hire a work force that was readily available. This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit.

The amount of the $80 million forfeiture was determined by a review of Asplundh’s payroll, which showed the employment of thousands of undocumented immigrants over four years. Asplundh had a workforce of approximately 30,000. Investigators determined that Asplundh used the fraudulent techniques to hire at least 10 percent of its workforce — or about 3,000 to 4,000 workers — in a four-year span, and earned $800 million in profits during that stretch. The presiding Judge, Josh A. Davison, said the idea of a forfeiture is to seize illegal gains, so the government reasoned that the illegally hired 10 percent of the workforce generated 10 percent of the profits. Thus, 10% of $80 million is $80 million.

Prior to the company’s guilty plea, regional manager Gauger has pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in October 2017, along with two supervisors, Juan Rodriguez and Jude Solis, who pleaded guilty in the same conspiracy.

This case is another example of the U.S. government cracking down on employers who violate the immigration laws.

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