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Worksite Enforcement
05/18/2012

Houston-based company admits to hiring illegal aliens

Agrees to forfeit $2 million

HOUSTON – ABC Professional Tree Services Inc. (ABC) has agreed to adhere to revised immigration compliance procedures and to pay $2 million as forfeited funds to the Department of Homeland Security related to revenue derived from the employment of illegal aliens. The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, along with Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

For its part, the United States has agreed not to criminally prosecute the company. ABC is a Houston-based company that provides right of way vegetation management for electric utilities in more than a dozen states.

HSI agents in Birmingham, Ala., began investigating ABC in early 2008 following complaints that a significant portion of the company's employees were undocumented aliens. In March 2008, agents conducted traffic stops on ABC crews and detained employees who were determined to be unlawfully present in the United States.

In June 2008, agents reviewed the Employment Eligibility Verification Forms (I-9s) and supporting documentation for about 2,500 employees at ABC. The inspection revealed a significant number of employees, when hired, had presented invalid personal identification information. Later, HSI agents determined that, as of the second quarter of 2009, about 30 percent of the company's workforce consisted of undocumented aliens.

HSI agents executed a federal search warrant at ABC's Houston headquarters on March 4, 2010, seizing documentary evidence including employment and personnel records. At that time, agents detained undocumented aliens who were on site at the headquarters. On that same day, agents in Birmingham detained more undocumented ABC employees during a traffic stop.

The government's investigation revealed ABC had, for years, ignored federal law by falsely attesting on I-9s that work authorization documents presented by new hires appeared genuine. In addition, for several years, ABC had received notices from the Social Security Administration known as "no-match letters," and similar information from the company's payroll processor, both of which indicated employee names and Social Security numbers did not match SSA records.

The company failed to take corrective measures, resulting in the continued employment of the undocumented aliens. ABC derived at least $2 million in revenue from the provision of services to electrical utilities with its illegal workforce from 2006 through 2011. This figure represents the amount of money that ABC will forfeit under its non-prosecution agreement with the government.

Since becoming aware of the government's investigation, ABC has remediated its workforce and imposed significant immigration compliance measures. Since September 2008, ABC has used E-verify, a database administered by the federal government, to verify the employment eligibility of new hires. Beginning in the fall of 2008, the company also revised its immigration compliance procedures to include new policies concerning the proper completion, retention and auditing of I-9s and for responding to SSA No Match letters. As part of its commitment to complying with the law, ABC also terminated hundreds of undocumented workers.

Assistant United States Attorney David Searle, Southern District of Texas, handled the case.