Saturday, November 22, 2008

INB 11/22/08: Iowa Restaurants Raided; Colorado Tax Raids

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 28 - November 22, 2008

1. Chinese Restaurants Raided in Iowa
2. Colorado: Local Raids Target Tax Filers
3. Border Patrol Raids Vermont Worksite
4. NJ: 33 Arrested in "Gang" Raids
5. "Gang" Raids in California, Wisconsin
6. Raided Massachusetts Firm Settles Wage Suit
7. McDonald's Franchise Managers Sentenced
8. Long Island Youths Charged in Killing of Immigrant
9. WA: Detention Guards Hired Without Background Checks

Immigration News Briefs is a weekly supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499;; INB is also distributed free via email; contact to subscribe or unsubscribe. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe. Immigration News Briefs is posted at


On Nov. 18, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested four workers in raids on Peony Chinese Restaurants in Vinton and Toledo, Iowa. The same family owns both restaurants. Two men from Mexico were arrested at the Toledo restaurant; one man from Mexico and one from China were arrested at the Vinton restaurant. All four face administrative immigration violations for being in the country illegally, said ICE spokesperson Tim Counts from the ICE office in Minneapolis. A hearing has not yet been scheduled before a federal immigration judge to determine whether the men will be deported. Counts said the enforcement actions were part of an ongoing investigation. "A 'raid' denotes something random or chaotic--this is neither," said Counts.

State patrol assigned three troopers to Benton and Tama Counties to help ICE. During the raid at the Peony restaurant near the Benton County Courthouse in Vinton, four Iowa State Patrol squad cars and one Vinton police car were parked outside. [The Gazette (Cedar Rapids) 11/18/08; Daily Iowan (University of Iowa student newspaper, Iowa City) 11/20/08]


On Nov. 12 and 13, sheriff's deputies in Weld County, Colorado arrested 13 people in "Operation Number Games," a round-up of suspects who allegedly filed tax returns using suspicious Social Security numbers. Two more suspects were arrested in the sweep on Nov. 14. The suspects were identified from information uncovered in an Oct. 17 search of Amalia's Translation and Tax Services, a business in Greeley that primarily serves immigrants. As of Nov. 14, the District Attorney's office had presented a total of 98 cases. Deputies said they were continuing to search for suspects named on warrants while they wait for a judge to act on additional warrant requests. The investigation is expected to last for a year or more, with possibly more than 1,300 arrests. Weld District Attorney Ken Buck said he believes a majority of the suspects will ultimately be charged with felony criminal impersonation rather than the more serious charge of identity theft.

The raids follow the Aug. 13 arrest of Servando Trejo, a Mexican immigrant who had used the Social Security number of a Texas resident. Trejo told a Weld County Sheriff's Office detective that he bought the ID in Texas after he crossed the border in 1995. He used the ID to get jobs, obtain loans, get a Colorado driver's license and pay taxes, which in recent years he filed through Amalia's Translation and Tax Services. According to Trejo's arrest affidavit, Amalia Cerrillo told authorities she helped Trejo and other clients who came in with false Social Security numbers apply for Individual Tax Identification Numbers from the Internal Revenue Service, and then helped them file tax returns which typically showed both numbers. Investigators said they believe many of the people who filed returns received more money in refunds than they paid in taxes.

Authorities obtained a search warrant for Amalia's by arguing they had probable cause to suspect more potential identity thieves had tax records on file there. The warrant only allowed them to seize 2006 and 2007 records, but in the Oct. 17 search at Amalia's the sheriff's deputies ended up seizing the tax returns of more than 4,000 people dating to 2000. "In looking there, they found other returns that violated the law, in their opinion, so that allowed them to take other returns as a result of them being in plain view," explained Buck. [Greeley Tribune Via Acquire Media NewsEdge 11/14/08; Greeley Tribune 11/15/08]


On Nov. 13, Border Patrol agents arrested five immigrant workers outside the Handy Suites Hotel in Essex Junction, Vermont. The workers were staying at the hotel and working on a construction site across the street for a new Lowe's home improvement store. A Border Patrol unit showed up at the site after receiving a tip. "We encountered these five subjects in the parking lot [and] determined yes in fact they were illegal in the United States," said Special Operations Supervisor Brad Curtis. "Once they're done being processed, they'll be moved over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and they will be put in deportation proceedings," Curtis added. [WFFF News (Burlington) 11/13/08] Construction workers told Channel 3 News that the five immigrants were drywall workers employed by Kal-Vin Construction of Hudson, New Hampshire. Border Patrol agents arrested 14 undocumented construction workers last October near the Lowe's construction site in South Burlington. [WCAX News (Burlington) 11/13/08]


On Nov. 18, ICE agents arrested 33 people in the New Jersey towns of Butler (Morris County) and Bloomingdale (Passaic County) in a sweep targeting people whom local police suspect have been taking part in gang activity, according to ICE spokesperson Harold Ort. ICE identified 12 of the 33 people arrested as violent gang members, six of whom have criminal records in New Jersey, Ort said. The gang members belong to the Mexican Latin Kings and Sureno 13, said Ort. The 31 men and two women arrested were sent to county jails in Middlesex, Hudson and Essex counties; ICE spokesperson Michael Gilhooly said that ICE may decide to transfer them to jails in other states. All those arrested will go before an immigration judge for removal proceedings, Gilhooly said.

"These numbers reveal that about a third of the arrests were [of alleged] gang members, and presumably the [other people arrested] were swept up in dragnets," said Bassina Farbenblum, an attorney with Seton Hall Law School's Center for Social Justice. "The fact that they are labeled by ICE as gang members doesn't necessarily mean they are gang members," she said.

"The government has not been forthcoming with information about the raids or the policies underlying them," said Farbenblum. "We've heard so many reports of unconstitutional practices.... The public has a right to know how [the raids] are being conducted, what the priorities are, whether they're relying on accurate data or whether this is just a waste of resources." The Seton Hall Center for Social Justice filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in December 2007, asking ICE for information pertinent to New Jersey immigration arrests dating back to 2006.

Ort said ICE and local agencies spent more than two months investigating the targeted individuals, including doing surveillance. Ort admitted that none of the suspects committed crimes during that period, and none were picked up on arrest warrants. Authorities seized $10,000 in the sweep, as well as photographs and cell phone images of suspects flashing gang signs, said Ort.

Pastor Steven Bechtold of the Butler United Methodist Church said two of the people arrested in the raids--a man and a woman--are members of his congregation. "Both people are active church attenders who come to worship every week," Bechtold said. "They are active in our Bible study group. They volunteer around the church--sometimes it's doing outside lawn work, washing dishes for dinners. We had very positive experiences." [Star Ledger (Newark) 11/20/08]


On Nov. 19, a task force of more than 60 federal and local law enforcement personnel conducted a pre-dawn raid targeting gang members at 28 locations in the Newhall and Canyon Country sections of Santa Clarita, in Los Angeles County. Agencies participating in the sweep included ICE, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff Station's Detective Bureau, the City of Santa Clarita/Sheriff's COBRA Unit and the Community Interaction Team (CIT), the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Los Angeles County Department of Probation. A total of 21 people were arrested: four were booked on new criminal charges at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station; 15 were transported by ICE to downtown Los Angeles to face immigration proceedings; and two are being presented to the US Attorney's Office for prosecution on federal felony charges of re-entering the country after deportation. [Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station Press Release 11/19/08 via SCVTV; Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek) 11/19/08]

On Nov. 19, federal, state and local authorities arrested 11 alleged "gang members and associates," all of them unauthorized immigrants from Mexico, in a multi-agency sweep in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Justice said the operation targeted the Surenos 13 street gang. One of the 11 immigrants was turned over to federal prosecutors to face charges of re-entering the US after having been deported. Two others were turned over to the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department to face outstanding criminal charges. ICE placed detainers on the two to ensure they are returned to ICE custody for deportation when the criminal proceedings end. The other eight people arrested are in ICE custody pending deportation. [AP 11/20/08; AP 11/21/08 from WGTD-FM]


The manufacturing company Michael Bianco, Inc. has agreed to pay $850,000 to settle a federal class action lawsuit over unpaid overtime and wages at its former factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The settlement includes $613,000 in unpaid wages to be distributed to 764 workers, including some of the 361 immigrant workers who were arrested in an ICE raid at the factory on Mar. 6, 2007 [see INB 3/9/07]. Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS), which has provided free counsel to more than 100 of the arrested workers, announced the settlement at a Nov. 18 press conference. GBLS joined with South Coastal Counties Legal Services and attorney Philip Gordon of the Gordon Law Group in filing the lawsuit last year in federal district court in Boston.

The lawsuit charged that Bianco "systematically and intentionally violated the laws requiring time-and-a-half for overtime work by creating a sham second corporation called Front Line Defense Inc." Employees who worked more than eight hours on the same day were required to clock out of day shifts at 5pm from Michael Bianco Inc. and clock back in for evening shifts at 5:30pm with Front Line, the suit alleged. The workers received separate paychecks from Bianco and Front Line. Audrey Richardson, a senior attorney at GBLS, said workers had sought overtime before the raid, but former Bianco owner Francesco Insolia had made it "crystal clear" that he would not pay overtime. In addition to the overtime pay, the settlement requires Bianco to pay wages withheld from workers who were as little as one minute late for work, according to GBLS. The lawsuit alleged that workers were routinely docked 15 to 30 minutes of pay because they had waited in long lines to punch in for work due to an insufficient number of time clocks.

The settlement covers the six named plaintiffs--one current and five former Bianco employees--and all employees who worked for Michael Bianco and/or Front Line Defense between 2004 and March 2007 . The US Department of Labor will supervise and administer the $613,000 in restitution payments to 764 workers, who will receive payments ranging from less than $20 to more than $8,000, depending on the length of employment at the plant and the number of overtime hours worked, said Richardson. Most workers will receive between $1,000 and $5,000. The settlement covers employees who are authorized to work and those who lack work authorization; Richardson noted that federal laws governing payment of wages and overtime cover all workers regardless of their immigration status. The six plaintiffs named in the lawsuit will receive a bonus of $2,000 each for their courage in testifying, Richardson said.

The settlement also includes money for community groups in New Bedford that support and organize immigrant workers, and partial compensation for attorneys' fees and costs incurred by legal services groups representing the workers. GBLS and Organization Maya K'iche, a New Bedford advocacy group for Guatemalan Mayans, will assist in locating eligible workers and distributing checks. The groups have kept in touch with many of the workers who were deported and will work with family members to track down other workers, said Richardson. According to ICE, of 361 Bianco workers arrested in the raid, 168 have been deported; 116 have cases pending in immigration court; 26 have received final deportation orders; and 16 have had their legal status adjusted, allowing them to remain in the US. The situation of the other 35 workers was unclear. [Standard-Times (New Bedford) 11/19/08; Boston Globe 11/19/08; GBLS Press Release 11/18/08]

On Nov. 3, the US Attorney's office in Boston announced that Michael Bianco Inc. had pleaded guilty to criminal charges of hiring and harboring unauthorized immigrants, fraudulently misrepresenting social security numbers and failing to pay overtime. In the same plea agreement, Insolia, the company's president and principal shareholder, pleaded guilty to helping harbor and conceal unauthorized immigrants by allowing the company to submit false social security numbers to the government as if they were real. Insolia accepted a prison term of 12 to 18 months and a fine of $30,000. The company will have to pay a fine of approximately $1.5 million and another $460,000 in restitution for the overtime owed to employees. The restitution in the criminal case will be put toward the settlement of the class action lawsuit. On Oct. 24, Dilia Costa, production manager for Michael Bianco Inc., pleaded guilty to charges of hiring and harboring unauthorized immigrants. The company's contracts administrator, Gloria Melo, pleaded guilty on Oct. 24 to one count of continuing to employ unauthorized workers after the company had reason to know they were unauthorized.

The criminal case against Michael Bianco Inc. was investigated by ICE with assistance from the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, the Department of Defense's Criminal Investigative Service, the US Department of Labor - Office of Inspector General, the US Department of Labor - Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division, the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts and the US Postal Inspection Service. [ICE News Release 11/3/08; Standard-Times 11/19/08; Boston Globe 11/19/08]

Eagle Industries Inc. purchased the former Bianco plant in New Bedford in November 2007 and took over the company's Department of Defense contracts to make military equipment for US troops. [Standard-Times 11/19/08]


During the week of Nov. 10, US District Court Judge James Mahan sentenced one current and one former top executive of Mack Associates Inc., a firm that owns 11 McDonald's restaurants in the Reno, Nevada area, to three years of probation each for systematically employing unauthorized immigrant workers. Jimmy Moore, the former vice president of Mack Associates, pleaded guilty to one felony count of inducing an unauthorized immigrant to remain in the US; Moore was also sentenced to 40 hours of community service. Joe Gillespie, director of operations for the firm, pleaded guilty to one felony count of aiding and abetting an alien to remain in the US. Anntoinette Richmond, the controller for Mack Associates, and Teresa Theiss, a former payroll clerk for the company, were each previously sentenced to 90 hours of community service and fined $1,000 after pleading guilty to one misdemeanor count each of continuing employment of an unauthorized alien. The sentences were part of a July 16 plea agreement under which Mack Associates agreed to pay a $1 million fine and was placed on probation for one year.

Plea agreements and documents filed in the case show that executives of Mack Associates knowingly hired unauthorized immigrants and supplied them with false identities in an effort to retain long-term employees, especially restaurant managers. Sometimes, the fake identities were of living or dead acquaintances of the firm's workers, according to the documents. Luther Mack, owner of Mack Associates, was not charged. The case came to light on Sept. 27, 2007 when ICE agents executed federal search warrants and arrested 58 immigrants working at 11 Reno area McDonald's restaurants operated by Mack Associates [see INB 9/30/07]. At least 30 of the 58 workers arrested in that raid have since been deported. The remaining workers were provided with documentation allowing them to remain in the US pending the outcome of the criminal investigation. [Reno Gazette Journal 11/20/08; US Department of Justice Press Release 7/16/08 via Reuters]


On Nov. 20, six teenagers were arraigned in Suffolk County Criminal Court on multiple counts of gang assault and hate crimes in connection with the Nov. 8 killing of Ecuadoran immigrant Marcelo Lucero in the community of Patchogue on Long Island, New York. A grand jury indictment unsealed on Nov. 20 lays out additional charges against the same defendants for earlier crimes targeting Latin American immigrants. The judge set bail for five of the youths at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond; bail was denied to a sixth defendant who has a prior felony conviction for a 2007 burglary in which an East Patchogue man was killed. A seventh teenager, 17-year-old Jeffrey Conroy, is scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 24 on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter as a hate crime; Conroy is accused of stabbing Lucero in the chest, killing him. All seven teens have pleaded not guilty in the attack on Lucero.

One of the defendants, 17-year-old Jose Pacheco, was described by the New York Times as being half African-American and half Puerto Rican. The other six youths are white. Suffolk County district attorney Thomas J. Spota said three of the defendants--including Pacheco--went out driving five days before Lucero was killed with the intent of, in their words, "beaner hopping." They found a Hispanic man that day whom Pacheco admitted to punching and knocking out cold, Spota said. That man has not stepped forward. According to Spota, Pacheco later told the police, "I don't go out and do this very often, maybe once a week." [New York Times 11/20/08]

Another defendant in the case, 17-year-old Jordan Dasch, is apparently of Jewish heritage. In his page on the social networking website MySpace, Dasch featured an image of a Jewish star with a Nazi swastika embedded in the middle, and laughingly referred to himself as a "Nazi Jew," according to information posted on the website of Long Island WINS, an immigrant rights organization that managed to download the page before it was removed from MySpace. [New York Jewish Week 11/22/08; Long Island WINS Blog Post 11/10/08]

Lucero's killing has sparked numerous vigils and protests in Long Island and beyond. More than 1,000 people gathered to honor Lucero in Patchogue on Nov. 14. [Newsday (LI) 11/14/08] Also on Nov. 14, more than 30 people gathered with candles and signs in the community of Nanuet, in Rockland County, New York. [Journal News (Westchester County) 11/15/08] On Nov. 21, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Manhattan office of New York governor David Paterson to mourn Lucero's death and demand the resignation of Suffolk County executive Steve Levy, who is accused of stirring up hate on Long Island with his outspoken stance against undocumented immigrants. [NY1 News 11/22/08]

In Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, three teenagers charged in connection with the fatal beating last July of Mexican immigrant Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala appeared in court on Nov. 13 and asked Schuylkill County judge William E. Baldwin to dismiss charges against them or have them tried separately. Baldwin took the defendants' requests under advisement but did not indicate when he would rule. Schuylkill County detectives say that the three youths, along with a fourth teenager who is charged as a juvenile, yelled racial epithets as they beat Ramirez on July 12. Ramirez was hospitalized and died from his injuries on July 16. Two of the three defendants face third-degree murder charges; another is charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, criminal solicitation/hindering apprehension or prosecution, ethnic intimidation, corruption of minors, purchase or consumption of alcohol by a minor and selling or furnishing alcohol to minors. All three are free on bail pending further court action. Immigrant rights groups have continued to protest and attend hearings in Shenandoah to demand justice for Ramirez. [Republican Herald (Pottsville, PA) 11/14/08]


During the week of Nov. 3, Sylvia Wong, an administrator in charge of hiring at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, pleaded guilty in federal court in Tacoma to one count of making a false statement. Wong acknowledged lying to federal investigators about her failure to perform background checks when hiring guards for the privately-run immigration jail; she is due to be sentenced in February and faces a maximum of six months in prison.

The Northwest Detention Center opened in 2004 and holds about 1,000 people accused of immigration violations, mainly detainees from Alaska, Oregon and Washington. It is operated for profit by the Florida-based GEO Group Inc. (formerly Wackenhut).

In her plea agreement, Wong admitted that soon after starting work in November 2005, she began hiring guards without background checks "because of the pressure she felt to get security personnel hired at the NWDC as quickly as possible." ICE auditors discovered early in 2008 that 92 security guards were hired without background checks at the Tacoma; ICE didn't catch the practice for two years, court documents show. ICE acknowledges that some of the guards were fired after subsequent background checks. ICE spokesperson Lorie Dankers refused to say how many guards were fired, but she insisted the number was small, and that the agency has now "implemented a multitiered vetting process ... so that no contractor or federal employee has sole responsibility to process and approve employment documents." [AP 11/7/08]


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