Posted on October 8, 2004

Illegal Workers Contracted To AMFELS Linked To Judge

Emma Perez-Treviño, Brownsville Herald (Tex.), Oct. 1

State District Judge Leonel Alejandro owns Port Fabricators, a company that allegedly supplied U.S. Department of Defense contractor AMFELS with undocumented immigrants arrested in an early morning raid Wednesday.

The case continues under federal investigation, The Herald found.

Alejandro, who presides over the 357th District Court, had been AMFELS’ attorney prior to his election to the bench in November 2002. He took office in January 2003.

Alejandro and Port Fabricators Vice President Amelia Ortiz of Rancho Viejo were not available for comment. But Brownsville Navigation District Commissioner Luigi Cristiano, Ortiz’s son-in-law, defended Ortiz and Alejandro.

“They have the highest ethical standards and we just have to see what is going on,” said Cristiano, Alejandro’s nephew by marriage. “It is a concern. It’s extra stress in life that nobody needs, but there is nothing that was done inappropriately.”

The Herald could not determine if all the undocumented immigrants arrested Wednesday were supplied by Port Fabricators, but Cristiano said it’s “not the only company that (federal officials) are looking at.”

Forty-one suspected undocumented immigrants — all men — were apprehended Wednesday morning at AMFELS at the Port of Brownsville and charged with false representation of Social Security numbers, said U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby.

This is a felony offense, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison without parole and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

Shelby said the defendants — 40 Mexican nationals and one Guatemalan — would appear before a U.S. Magistrate Thursday and today.

Commenting on this case and a second case in McAllen, Shelby said in a press release issued Thursday: “Both cases represent our continuing commitment to assure our nation’s security through the consistent enforcement of our laws. We cannot allow our long-term security to be thrown away for short-term gain.

“Today, the stakes are too high.”

AMFELS, which repairs and builds oilrigs, was chosen for a $73 million federal defense contract in October to equip a Boeing Co. platform at the port with anti-missile systems and radar.

Shelby said some of the undocumented immigrants were performing jobs such as welding.

“If those welds are not performed correctly then you have potential for failure,” he told the Associated Press. “With some of these projects that are worked on there can be absolutely no room for failure.”

AMFELS spurred the investigation by contacting the U.S. attorney’s office after noticing discrepancies in the Social Security numbers of some workers, said BND Chief Executive Officer Raul A. Besteiro and board Chairman Peter M. Zavaletta.

“This was handled in a very proper manner by AMFELS,” Besteiro said. “They were the first to report this. The Port (of Brownsville) backs them (AMFELS) up 100 percent.”

Zavaletta said AMFELS acted properly in alerting the authorities.

“AMFELS started the investigation itself and was by no means caught,” Zavaletta said. “AMFELS is an extremely important employer to the port and the entire lower Valley, and an exemplary corporate citizen. When AMFELS catches a cold, we are all sneezing.”

Port Fabricators shares a business address on Central Boulevard with several corporations that Alejandro, Ortiz and Cristiano are involved in. But, Cristiano said he and his wife Theresa are not associated with Port Fabricators’ operations.

Attorney Jeff Roerig represents Port Fabricators and issued a statement late Thursday on the company’s behalf.

“The management of Port Fabricators has cooperated with the investigation and will continue to cooperate with the authorities that are investigating, and the company has so far met all of their requests for records and information and will continue to do that,” Roerig said.

Federal officials served a search warrant Wednesday on the company and Roerig said that all of the materials the authorities wanted have been delivered to them.