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03/11/2008

Federal Court of Appeals affirms convictions of former Iowa restaurant owners

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The convictions of two former owners of The Galley Restaurant in Vinton, Iowa, who hired illegal aliens to work in their restaurant, were upheld today by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. U.S. Attorney Matt M. Dummermuth, District of Iowa, made the announcement; the convictions resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Sadik Seferi, 43, and Nicole Tipton, 25, of Vinton, Iowa, were sentenced Nov. 30, 2006 following a May 10 jury verdict finding them guilty of hiring and harboring illegal aliens, and for conspiring to hire and harbor illegal aliens. Seferi was sentenced to 30 months in prison; Tipton was sentenced to 27 months.

Seferi and Tipton operated The Galley Restaurant from about September 2005 through March 2006. Evidence presented at the trial showed that during this time they knowingly hired at least six illegal aliens to work in the restaurant. One of the workers was 14 years old and another was 17.

The illegal aliens employed by the restaurant were paid cash at far below minimum wage, and taxes were not withheld from their pay. However, records presented in court showed that Seferi and Tipton paid U.S. citizens and properly documented alien employees by check and withheld taxes from their wages.

Seferi and Tipton appealed their convictions, and Tipton appealed her sentence. The Court of Appeals Tuesday affirmed the convictions and Tipton's sentence, finding the evidence was sufficient to convict both on all three charges, and Tipton's sentence was properly imposed since she harbored six illegal aliens, two of them minors. Both Seferi and Tipton are serving their sentences in federal prison.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Reinert, District of Iowa. The case was investigated by ICE with assistance from the Benton County Sheriff's Office, and the Vinton Police Department.