Posted on November 11, 2004

Company Harbored Illegals

Pamela Manson, Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 11

At a Cinco de Mayo company picnic in 2002, Ray Crosby, principal owner and president of Champion Safe Co., gave a speech that essentially thanked employees for “crossing the river.”

Two years earlier, the company was notified by the government that about 15 of its employees were working with incorrect or fraudulent Social Security numbers. Despite that and other warnings, the Provo safe-manufacturing business continued to employ undocumented workers, prosecutors contend.

On Wednesday — in one of the first prosecutions of its kind in Utah — Crosby admitted that Champion Safe had harbored two dozen immigrants who had entered the country illegally.

Crosby entered the plea in federal court in Salt Lake City on behalf of the business.

The company’s plea deal calls for it to pay an $80,000 fine and spend at least three years on probation. During the probationary period, officials of Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] will be able to inspect employment documents without any prior notice to the company.

Giving notice to other Utah employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers, assistant U.S. attorney Dustin Pead said: “I hope this prosecution sends a message that you have our attention.”

U.S. Magistrate David Nuffer set sentencing for Jan. 18 before Judge Paul Cassell.

Immigration agents raided the business in February 2003 and detained 107 employees. No workers were prosecuted, but most were deported.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office typically prosecutes companies for a pattern and practice of knowingly hiring undocumented workers, which carries a fine of $3,000 for each worker who is unlawfully employed. Four Utah businesses were charged with that offense last year.

But under the harboring charge that Champion Safe faced, a company must either knowingly hire an undocumented worker or ignore evidence that the worker is ineligible to work, and conceal the employee from discovery. The maximum punishment for the offense is a $500,000 fine and five years of probation.

The harboring charge has “a little more teeth,” Pead said.

He said Champion Safe itself was charged, rather than its president, because the illegal hiring was “more corporate fault than the fault of Mr. Crosby.”

Crosby referred questions about any changes in hiring practices at his safe manufacturing company to his lawyer, Anneli Smith, who said, “They intend to fully comply with the law.”

Employers are required to check documentation, such as birth certificates and work permits, to confirm new hires are legally allowed to work in the United States.

If a document appears to be genuine, the employer cannot be charged with a crime if it later is determined to be a fake.

However, officials at Champion Safe had ample knowledge that many among the 150-employee work force were undocumented, according to prosecutors. They list this evidence in the plea agreement:

—The receipt of the 2000 letter alerting the company to employees with incorrect or fraudulent Social Security numbers.

—The practice of hiring workers without completing the proper paperwork for verification of their employment eligibility.

—The comment at the 2002 picnic.

—Crosby’s admission to immigration agents that he suspected as much as half of the work force was illegal.

—The company’s failure to turn over the employment records of some undocumented workers.

Most of the detainees in the 2003 raid were Mexican, while a handful were from Argentina, Uruguay and Peru.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Paul Warner recalled the controversial December 2001 raid at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Federal prosecutors charged 69 workers, many undocumented, while none of the businesses who had hired them faced charges.

Warner had promised to prosecute employers in cases where he found sufficient evidence. “This case is part of that commitment,” he said.

Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman, said the agency is using its enforcement powers to promote domestic security. Hiring workers who have fraudulent papers is a serious offense, she said.