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Houston waste collection company agrees to pay $3 million penalty

The company also agrees to cooperate with ICE in ongoing criminal investigation

HOUSTON - A local waste collection company agreed today to pay $3 million in fines and cooperate in a criminal investigation into alleged immigration violations by some former employees. The agreement was announced today by U.S. Attorney Don DeGabrielle and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Special Agent in Charge Robert Rutt. immune

Republic Services Inc. agreed to pay $2 million in restitution to the City of Houston, to be used for recycling purposes, and $1 million to the U.S. Department of Treasury as a penalty. The company also entered into an agreement to cooperate with the U.S. government in the ongoing criminal investigation into alleged immigration violations by former employees at its Houston Wilson Road facility, and to adhere to an immigration compliance program. In return, the U.S. government has agreed not to criminally prosecute the company.

According to court documents, Republic Services Inc. entered into a five-year waste collection services contract with the City of Houston in June of 2000. During the contract, Republic invoiced the City of Houston based on an established rate per residential service unit, multiplied by the number of units collected. Republic garbage trucks delivered residential city waste to a BFI Waste Systems landfill located at McCarty Road in Houston. BFI then billed the City of Houston based on established rates.

In November of 2005, a local television news team broadcast a story asserting that employees of Republic's Wilson Road facility were disposing of waste collected from customers outside of Houston at the McCarty landfill, which resulted in BFI billing the City of Houston for non-city waste and over-billing. Republic investigated the allegations and cooperated with the city to resolve the matter.

Following the 2005 investigative news broadcast, ICE initiated its own investigation into hiring practices of Republic's Wilson Road facility. The investigation revealed that from 2002 through 2005, approximately 25 percent of the workers at the facility were illegal aliens. ICE executed a federal search warrant at the Wilson Road facility in January of 2007, seizing documents and computers. In addition, ICE arrested 52 illegal aliens, including 28 employees of Republic and 24 employees of temporary employment agencies.

"No employer is immune from complying with the law," said Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations in Houston. "Once we remove the magnet of illegal employment, the draw of illegal aliens will be significantly reduced."

"This non-prosecution agreement requires the entire company to continue its substantial remedial measures to address past immigration violations, the payment of a significant penalty to the City of Houston and the Treasury Department and the company's continued cooperation in an ongoing criminal investigation, while also taking into consideration the collateral consequences that a criminal prosecution would have on the company's contracts with various municipalities across the country and thousands of employees for the conduct of one small operating unit in Houston." DeGabrielle said.

Since January of 2007, Republic has taken substantial remedial measures to ensure compliance with immigration laws in its hiring process, including: terminating or disciplining responsible individuals; providing company-wide formal training on I-9 procedures; issuing I-9 self-audit guidelines to all its local offices; continuing to retain and consult with immigration counsel; dedicating additional resources by deploying human resources representatives to regional offices; implementing payroll software that includes I-9 compliance measures; revamping the AlertLine complaint process; training 30 investigators on the proper procedures for investigating, tracking and closing out complaints; and appointing a chief compliance officer.

The case against the company was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan D. McConnell.

As part of this agreement, Republic has agreed to cooperate with ICE in its continuing investigation into alleged wrongdoing by former employees of Republic's Wilson Road facility. The ongoing investigation is being overseen by Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Davis.