CEOs Facing Criminal Charges for Hiring Illegal Workers
ICE Raids and Department of Homeland Security Investigations Increasingly Result in Criminal Charges— Defend Your Business Now!
Call the Federal Defense Law Firm and Former Federal Prosecutors at Oberheiden P.C. Today to Learn How to Protect Yourself and Your Business
This brief article will provide an overview of current ICE investigations against managers and business owners across the U.S. Co-written by former Justice Department prosecutors and officials now at Oberheiden PC, this summary will also outline the elements required for the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt when it comes to employing illegal workers. Importantly, unknown to many lawyers, federal courts of appeals have established that the government must prove what is called “actual knowledge” of the legal violations. That is a very high standard that offers numerous avenues of defense. Oberheiden PC team members include:
- Former DOJ Officials
- U.S. Senate Confirmed Attorneys
- National Defense and Trial Counsel
- Only Experienced, Senior Attorneys
Choose your attorneys to defend your freedom and your reputation wisely. Experience does matter, and federal cases are distinctively different to ordinary criminal defense cases. Talk to lawyers that previously ran, oversaw, and led federal criminal investigations and that know all about it. Oberheiden P.C. offers you that option as many of our attorneys come from leading positions within the Justice Department. When selecting candidates, you must insist that your attorney routinely and regularly defends complex cases like yours before FBI, ICE, IRS, and other federal agencies. Don’t experiment with your future. Speak to federal criminal defense attorney Dr. Nick Oberheiden today, free and confidential consultations!
What Does the Government Have to Prove in Illegal Workers Cases?
The government carries the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant violated all elements of 8 U.S.C. §1324(3)(A), which states: “Any person who, during any 12-month period, knowingly hires for employment at least 10 individuals with actual knowledge that the individuals are aliens [who are not authorized to work in the United States] shall be fined . . . or imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.”
The key here is, as courts have repeatedly demanded, that the government is able to prove actual knowledge, that is clear and direct awareness of the existence of illegal workers at the workplace, not just mere suspicion, not just a mere belief.
Because immigration offenses are federal crimes, these offense types are investigated by federal and not state law enforcement agencies. Criminal immigration cases are led by the United States Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and overseen by Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) from one of the 95 local U.S. Attorney’s Offices spread across the 50 U.S. states.
What Are the Penalties for Hiring Illegal Workers?
A defendant convicted of harboring illegal workers at trial or a defendant who pled guilty to 8 U.S.C. 1324 must expect severe penalties. Pursuant to Title 8 of the United States Code, an employer guilty of employment immigration fraud is subject to up to 5 years imprisonment per count, a term of supervised release, criminal fines, asset forfeiture, and a mandatory special assessment. The exact penalty depends on a variety of circumstances such as the magnitude and duration of the fraud, the sophistication of the concealment, the effect on national security (if at all), the defendant’s cooperation, prior criminal history, the ability to pay restitution, and many other factors. Here are some recent examples of criminal cases involving employer immigration fraud.
- A CEO of a hog farming company in Minnesota was indicted for his alleged role in hiring dozens of illegal workers. The hog farm located in a small Minnesota town was raided by federal agents and more than 130 illegal workers were arrested. The CEO of the farm directed blame for the illegal workers to a third-party staffing company. The CEO claims his company often has difficulty finding workers for farm jobs and uses a staffing company to locate suitable workers. The CEO claims his company always verifies a workers’ legal ability to work and expected the staffing company to do the same. However, federal agents collected evidence against the CEO for over year, which they say supports their accusation that he knew and participated in the hiring of these illegal workers.
- A CEO pleaded guilty in Ohio for his role in a human trafficking scheme targeting illegal aliens. According to the plea agreement, the CEO had his own company that was used to bring illegal aliens into the United States for work assignments. Once in the US, the illegal workers would be sent to work with a farming company the CEO had contractual ties to. The plea agreement further states that the CEO would bring in undocumented minors and sell them for work. Once these minors were sold for work, they would be forced to live in deplorable conditions and were not allowed contact with their parents. The CEO pleaded guilty to encouraging the illegal entry of Guatemalan nationals, including unaccompanied minors, into the United States for financial gain. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
- An Uzbekistan national, legally living in the United States was indicted for his role in harboring and trafficking illegal aliens. The Uzbekistan man was the CEO of a labor leasing company and would secure contracts with numerous hotels throughout the United States where he would supply housekeeping services to these hotels. The CEO would bring in foreign workers who were not legalized to work in the United States and send them to work at the various hotels he had contracts with. The indictment further alleges that the CEO would threaten his workers with bodily harm or immigration consequences if they wanted to leave their jobs.
- Four brothers, who owned a cleaning company, were indicted for smuggling illegal aliens to work for their company. According to the indictment, the brothers lured foreign nationals into the United States with a promise of legalization for work and fair wages. However, once the workers came to the United States, they were not given proper work documentation and would not be paid for their work. The brothers allegedly threatened their workers with injuries if they wanted to leave the United States. The brothers have been charged with various criminal wrongdoings and face between 20 years and life in prison.
- An Ohio man who owned an employment agency, was indicted for his role in hiring illegal workers. According to the indictment, the owner of the agency recruited minor children from Central America to work on Ohio egg farms with promises of large sums of money to send back to their families. However, once the minors arrived in the United States, they were forced to work for up to 12 hours a day and were not paid for their work. The agency owner collected money from the various egg farms he sent the minors to work. The agency owner is facing charges of forced labor, trafficking and conspiracy and could face up to 20 years in prison.
How Can Business Owners Get Charged in a Federal Immigration Law Conspiracy?
When making charging decisions, federal prosecutors try to combine various defendants into one single indictment rather than issuing several independent indictments. Besides procedural economics, prosecutors prefer indictments involving conspiracy charges because this technique allows them to capture multiple individuals with varying levels of alleged culpability in one case. Importantly, the government is not required that the respective defendants had a formal agreement to violate the law; it is sufficient that each conspirator contributed something to the alleged fraud. For example, the HR manager knowingly failed to collect appropriate I9 Forms; the manager knew about this; the CEO did not want to hear about HR issues (“willful blindness”) and so on. In this hypothetical, all three individuals could be subject to conspiracy charges.
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Many of these draconian consequences can be avoided. Trust lawyers that have proven in hundreds of federal criminal cases how to safely navigate and counsel clients like you through audits and investigations without going to prison and without losing your hard-earned reputation. Don’t let the government take and destroy what you have built. The federal criminal defense lawyers at Oberheiden PC offer free and confidential consultations, including on weekends. No one will know that we spoke, but if we don’t speak, people may read about you in the newspaper in the crime section.
Dr. Nick Oberheiden, founder of Oberheiden P.C., focuses his litigation practice on white-collar criminal defense, government investigations, SEC & FCPA enforcement, and commercial litigation.