The cost of hiring illegal workers can be great, local bakery owners will have to pay a high price. A La Jolla, Calif., bakery, along with its owner and manager, were sentenced in federal court last week on charges stemming from a four-year probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that the business hired illegal alien workers.
U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan ordered The French Gourmet, Inc. to forfeit $109,200 in illicit proceeds gained from the illegal hiring practices and pay $277,375 for its felony conviction of employing more than 10 illegal alien workers in a 12-month period.
The company owner and president Michel Malecot, 59, was sentenced to five years of supervised probation after pleading guilty earlier this year to knowingly employing numerous illegal alien workers over an extended period of time. Malecot was also held liable to pay the total financial penalty of $396,575.
The French Gourmet has operated a restaurant, bakery and catering business for decades at 960 Turquoise St. in La Jolla. All three defendants pleaded guilty in October to having hired numerous illegal alien workers between 2005 and 2008, and continued to employ the unauthorized workers knowing the aliens did not have legal authority to work in the United States. The defendants further admitted to hiring and employing illegal alien workers continuously as early as 2003, despite being fined in the 1990s by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for employing illegal aliens.
The pattern of illegal activity continued until May 2008 when agents from HSI searched the restaurant and arrested 18 illegal alien workers. The company and Kauffman admitted they repeatedly rehired illegal alien workers, even after the company received “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration advising employees’ names did not match the Social Security numbers reported by the company on its tax returns.
So bottom line is to make sure employers keep proper compliance. Employers can face stiff penalties for I-9 violations which include substantial fines and also debarment from government contracts. Penalties can be imposed for hiring unauthorized workers as well as simply for committing paperwork violations even if all workers are authorized to work. So how does an employer sort through the information and fully protect itself from fines?
Knowledge is the key to understanding the severity of these penalties. Penalties can include $250 to $3,000 for improper completion of the I-9 form. Improper completion, retention or making it available for inspection fines range from $100 to $1,100 for each I-9. Knowingly hiring or continuing to employ unauthorized workers fines range from $250 up to $11,000 per violation. Firms who show a pattern of hiring unauthorized workers are liable for criminal penalties of as much as $3,000 per employee and may be subject to six months in prison. Investigators have considerable discretion in assessing fines and will look at factors like the size of the company, the seriousness of the violations, whether the employer was trying to comply in good faith and the pattern of past violations.
Depending on the state in which the company operates, this penalty can also include the suspension of license to practice within the state. So how can a business operate properly to protect itself?
All employers are required to complete an I-9 form of each new employee. This must be done within three business days of hire.
If you need more info about proper compliance, feel free to email us.