OAKLAND, Calif. - The owner of Pepe's Cabinets, an Oakland carpentry business, pleaded guilty today here in federal court to felony and misdemeanor charges stemming from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into allegations he knowingly hired illegal aliens to work at his company.
Jose De Jesus Guzman-Baez, 36, a Mexican national who is in the country illegally, pleaded guilty to three felony counts, including one count of possessing a counterfeit immigration document and two counts of fraudulent use of a Social Security number. Guzman also pleaded guilty to eight misdemeanor counts of employing an illegal alien. Guzman, whose sentencing is set for January 9, 2009, also faces possible deportation upon completion of any prison term.
In pleading guilty, Guzman admitted that, as the owner of Pepe's Cabinets, he knowingly hired individuals he knew were in the United States illegally and failed to complete the required employment eligibility forms (I-9s) for those employees. Guzman also admitted that the day he was arrested his entire workforce consisted of nine illegal aliens. The cabinetmaker further acknowledged he possessed a counterfeit Permanent Resident or "green card" in his name and used a fraudulent Social Security number that was not assigned to him. In addition, when ICE agents searched Guzman's shop they found fraudulent "green cards" in the names of some of his employees. Finally, Guzman states in the plea agreement that he submitted quarterly reports to the California Employment Development Department in which he represented that Social Security numbers were assigned to his employees when he knew that the numbers were fraudulent. ICE's investigation showed that some of those Social Security numbers were assigned to U.S. citizens.
That finding is consistent with a growing trend involving illegal aliens who use identity information belonging to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents in order to gain employment. The identity theft victims in these schemes suffer adverse consequences, including being denied medical and social services benefits and even being placed under false arrest.
"Employers and business owners who fail to comply with our nation's hiring laws face consequences," said Ray Greenlee, assistant special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in San Francisco. "Employment is one of the key forces fueling illegal immigration, which is why worksite enforcement is a crucial part of ICE's interior immigration enforcement strategy."
Since ICE was established in March 2003, it has dramatically enhanced its efforts to combat the unlawful employment of illegal aliens in this country. So far this fiscal year (Sept. 30, 2007 through Aug. 30, 2008), ICE has made 1,070 criminal arrests tied to worksite enforcement investigations. Of those, 123 are owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees accused of violations ranging from alien harboring to knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The remaining criminal defendants are workers arrested on charges including aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud. ICE has also made approximately 4,700 administrative arrests for immigration violations during worksite enforcement operations this fiscal year.