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Company forfeits $2 million for hiring undocumented workers

by Bruce Buchanan

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.

About The Author

Bruce E. Buchanan is an attorney at the at Nashville Office of Siskind Susser, P.C. He represents individuals and employers in all aspects of immigration law, with an emphasis on immigration compliance for employers, and employment/labor law. Mr. Buchanan received his law degree from the Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1982 and a B.S. degree from Florida State University, where he graduated magna cum laude. Mr. Buchanan has been in private practice since 2003. Beforehand, he served as Senior Trial Specialist for the National Labor Relations Board for 20 years. He also served from 1991 to 2003 as Adjunct Professor at William H. Bowen UALR School of Law, where he taught courses in Labor Law and Employment Law. Mr. Buchanan was chair of the Tennessee Bar Association's Immigration Law Section from 2011 to 2012 and has been the editor of the TBA's Immigration Law Section Newsletter and the TBA's Labor and Employment Law Section Newsletter since 2009. Mr. Buchanan is a frequent writer and speaker on immigration compliance as well as labor law, wage & hour law and proposed federal legislation. He is a member of American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and serves as the Advocacy Liaison of the Mid-South Chapter of AILA. Mr. Buchanan also serves on the Board of Directors for the Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE) and is an associate member of the Mid-Tennessee Chapter of the Associated Builders & Contractors. Mr. Buchanan is admitted to practice in Tennessee, Florida, and Arkansas, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and D.C. Circuits and the U.S. District Courts for the Middle District of Tennessee and the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.