KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A local man pleaded guilty in federal court on Monday to his role in a criminal enterprise involving illegal aliens working in 14 states, including employees at hotels in the Kansas City, Mo., area and in Branson, Mo. This plea was announced by Beth Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. The case was investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
Andrew Cole, 55, of St. Charles, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith to the charges contained in a Jan. 7 superseding indictment.
Cole admitted that, from December 2007 to May 2009, he engaged in a racketeering enterprise that involved forced labor trafficking, fraud in foreign labor contracting, and transporting illegal aliens. Cole also pleaded guilty to fraud in foreign labor contracting, which is the first conviction nationwide under that federal statute.
The federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) indictment alleges an extensive and profitable criminal enterprise in which hundreds of illegal aliens were employed at hotels and other businesses across the country. The criminal enterprise used false information to acquire fraudulent work visas for these foreign nationals.
Cole admitted that he was responsible for negotiating labor leasing contracts involving foreign nationals. Cole controlled Advantage Labor Services and represented Crystal Management Inc., which were both racketeering entities, and which supplied illegal workers to fulfill labor leasing contracts.
Cole recruited workers from the Dominican Republic by falsely representing the terms, conditions, and nature of their employment as hotel workers in the Kansas City, Mo., area. At the time Cole recruited these foreign workers, he knew that they would not be paid the wages promised and that many of them would be sent outside the Kansas City area to work in factory positions in Alabama. Cole also knew that threats of deportation and other adverse immigration consequences would be made to these foreign workers by members of the criminal enterprise in order to keep them compliant.
Cole also admitted that he assisted in transporting and housing illegal aliens in Wyoming, outside of the parameter of their visas, in substandard housing conditions.
Cole is the fifth co-defendant to plead guilty.
Ilkham Fazilov, 45, a citizen of Uzbekistan residing Kansas City, Mo., pleaded guilty to the racketeering conspiracy on Aug. 16. Fazilov was the nominee organizer of Five Star Cleaning LLC, and Suncoast Hospitality Inc., which were fictitious shell companies used to fraudulently obtain work authorization for foreign nationals, and to conceal the unlawful proceeds of the criminal enterprise. Fazilov handled the payroll for the foreign workers and executed fraudulent ETA-750 petitions, which falsely claimed an exaggerated need for workers. These workers were placed for employment outside the parameters of the petition in violation of federal law. Fazilov also opened bank accounts for these shell companies and wire transferred unlawful proceeds to facilitate enterprise activities.
Jakhongir Kakhkharov, 30, a citizen of Uzbekistan, pleaded guilty to the same charge on March 16. Kakhkharov acted as head of Midwest Management Inc., a nominee entity established as part of the criminal enterprise to launder the illegal proceeds of the enterprise and to avoid paying taxes. Kakhkharov admitted that he laundered a total of $634,192 in unlawful proceeds between July and December 2007. He also admitted that he used apartments in the Kansas City, Mo., area to house illegal aliens between July 2007 and January 2008.
Alexandru Frumusache, 25, a citizen of the Republic of Moldova residing in Kansas City, Kan., pleaded guilty on Oct. 7, 2009, to forced-labor trafficking. Between September 2008 and the end of April 2009, Frumusache aided and abetted others in a scheme to cause foreign workers (including citizens from the Philippines, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica) to believe that they would be deported, or their H2B work visas would be cancelled, or they or their families members would be penalized with a $5,000 to $10,000 fee, if the foreign workers failed or refused to work where and when they were ordered to work.
Frumusache also admitted that he aided and abetted others in subjecting the foreign workers to terrible living conditions without food, furniture or appropriate sleeping arrangements. They assigned more foreign workers than each living space allowed and the foreign workers were subjected to sleeping on the floor or mattresses. They utilized the housing arrangement as an additional way to profit off of the foreign workers by overcharging them in rent and automatically withdrawing the fees from the foreign workers' pay checks.
Abdukakhar Azizkhodjaev, 50, a citizen of Uzbekistan residing in Panama City, Fla., pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony. Azizkhodjaev admitted that, while he was employed at Giant Labor Solutions between June 2006 and December 2007, his employer failed to withhold payroll taxes from Azizkhodjaev's salary, thus committing evasion of corporate employment tax. Azizkhodjaev concealed this offense by neglecting to file a tax return.
Under federal statutes, Cole is subject to a sentence of up to 25 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William L. Meiners and Trial Attorney Jim Felte with the U.S. Department of Justice's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
This case was investigated by ICE-HSI, the FBI, U.S. Department of Labor, OIG's Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation, the Kansas Department of Revenue's Criminal Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Independence, Mo., Police Department in conjunction with the Human Trafficking Rescue Project.