Will Racke, DCNF
A national tree services company will have to pay a record fine after admitting that it engaged in a scheme to hire illegal aliens, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
Asplundh Tree Expert Co., a suburban Philadelphia-based contractor that trims and removes trees around power lines, pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal criminal charge and was ordered to pay a total of $95 million, the biggest penalty ever levied in an immigration case.
Federal Judge John R. Padova ordered the company to pay a criminal forfeiture judgment of $80 million, plus a $15 million civil penalty to satisfy additional civil claims for failure to follow immigration law.
Asplundh hired thousands of unauthorized workers between 2010 and 2014, using knowingly fraudulent identification documents, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia. Prosecutors said the company’s upper management was “willfully blind,” while mid-level regional supervisors knowingly violated immigration law and hired illegal aliens.
Asplundh allegedly used word of mouth referrals instead of a systematic application process, allowing supervisors to hire a compliant workforce of illegal laborers.
“This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit,” prosecutors said in a statement. “With a motivated work force, including unauthorized aliens willing to be relocated and respond to weather related events around the nation, Asplundh had crews which were easily mobilized that enabled them to dominate the market. Asplundh provided all the incentives to managers to skirt immigration law.”
Asplundh employs 30,000 workers in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, according to the Associated Press. The company was the subject of a six-year audit by investigators with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which discovered in 2009 that company managers were accepting sham driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers, green cards and other fake identification documents.
Three Asplundh managers, including a vice president, had previous pleaded guilty to felony charges in the case, the AP reported.
“Today’s judgment sends a strong, clear message to employers who scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants: we will find you and hold you accountable,” acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said in a statement. “Violators who manipulate hiring laws are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we will continue to take action to remove this magnet.”
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