BOISE, Idaho—Four major agricultural companies and a nonprofit organization were sued Wednesday by an Idaho county that accused them of conspiring to hire and harbor illegal immigrants.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court contends the four companies—Syngenta Seeds, Sorrento Lactalis, Swift Beef Co. and Harris Moran Seed Co.—and the nonprofit Idaho Migrant Council—have violated the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was designed to target the mafia.
Syngenta Seeds is based in Golden Valley, Minn.
Canyon County in southwestern Idaho alleges the businesses are hurting the county by taking part in an “illegal immigrant hiring scheme,” and that the undocumented workers use county resources such as indigent medical care, jails and schools.
The lawsuit marks the first time a government entity has used RICO to demand damages from businesses for the costs of allegedly illegal employees, say legal experts including Notre Dame law Professor G. Robert Blakey, one of the authors of the federal law. If the county wins, the payoff could be huge—the federal anti-racketeering act allows damaged parties to collect triple damages.
“Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime. It has cost Canyon County millions of dollars, and we expect to recover it,” said Howard Foster, an attorney with the Chicago firm of Johnson & Bell who is representing the county. “I believe Canyon County will open the doors for other municipalities across the country to follow suit.”
The four companies, which together employ hundreds of workers in Canyon County, are accused of knowingly hiring hundreds of illegal workers, partly through agreements with worker recruiting companies.