AZ employer pleads guilty to hiring immigrants
Web Producer: Marissa Pasquet
PHOENIX (AP) - A southern Arizona contractor pleaded guilty in Tucson on Friday to knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, the first case in the state in which authorities pursued criminal charges instead of just fines.
Ivan Hardt, president and owner of Sun Dry Wall & Stucco Inc. of Sierra Vista, faces up to six months in jail for misdemeanor illegal hiring.
Hardt also pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants, but his lawyer said that conviction will be dropped if he pays the government $450,000. That figure consists of $225,000 to cover proceeds that the company received during the time the illegal immigrants were employed there and another $225,000 to settle a civil dispute with the government over its payment to its legal and illegal workers.
Hardt's attorney, Michael Piccarreta, said his client plans to pay the full amount. Piccarreta said the violations occurred when Arizona's construction boom was still in effect and employers such as Hardt had trouble finding enough workers to cover all the work. ``He accepts full responsibility for that,'' Piccarreta said.
Hardt's company also pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and agreed to enact procedures meant to guard against future illegal hiring.
The U.S. Attorney's Office, which prosecuted the case, had no immediate comment early Friday afternoon.
The March 2007 bust of Hardt's business represented a new approach by federal authorities in Arizona that focused on criminal cases against company officials. Some violators viewed the previous strategy of seeking only civil penalties as the cost of doing business.
Now, people who hire illegal immigrants could face jail time, which authorities hope will be a stronger deterrent.
Authorities alleged that Sun Dry Wall & Stucco under reported its number of employees to federal inspectors and that some workers were found to have fraudulent work documents.
They also said the company's management was constantly on the lookout for undercover immigration agents and that the firm's president and one of its foremen used two-way radios to communicate about the whereabouts of immigration agents. If officers were coming, supervisors would move the illegal workers to another site, or tell them to hide.
Of the eight people from Sun Drywall and Stucco who were charged in the case, six have pleaded guilty.
Office manager Carol Hill was sentenced to two months in jail and three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and knowingly hiring at least 10 illegal aliens. Her plea deal said she knew those employees were illegal immigrants when she hired them.
Jose A. Gutierrez Tapia, the foreman in charge of stucco crews, pleaded guilty to knowingly hiring at least 10 illegal aliens and was sentenced to two months in jail and three years of supervised release.
Three other company employees pleaded guilty to conspiracy to knowingly hire hiring and employing illegal aliens. Two of those three were sentenced to three years of probation, while the third was sentenced to time served and 60 days of home confinement with electronic monitoring.
Hardt is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 26.
(Courtesy: The Associated Press )