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Worksite Enforcement

Prison sentence, fine for office manager guilty in ICE worksite investigation

TUCSON, Ariz. - A Sierra Vista, Ariz., office manager was sentenced to two months in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to knowingly hiring illegal aliens to work at a drywall company following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins also sentenced Carol Hill, 44, of Sierra Vista, Ariz., to 12 months of house arrest followed by 36 months of supervised release. Hill pleaded guilty in June 2008 to harboring illegal aliens for profit and knowingly hiring at least 10 illegal aliens within a 12-month period, both federal felonies. In addition, the court fined Hill $10,000 and ordered her to complete 500 hours of community service.

The charges against Hill stem from a 16-month probe by ICE into allegations that personnel at Sun Drywall and Stucco, Inc., of Sierra Vista, Ariz., knowingly hired illegal alien workers and conspired with counterfeit document vendors to obtain fraudulent work authorization cards for those employees. The case resulted in the first federal charges ever brought in a worksite enforcement investigation in Arizona.

"This case serves as a reminder about the consequences facing employers who exploit illegal alien labor and violate our nation's laws," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Arizona. "Businesses that use illegal alien workers to gain an economic advantage over their competition must understand they will potentially pay a price for those unlawful practices."

"I hope that this sentence sends a message to all Arizona employers that they need to take federal immigration laws seriously and that we intend to aggressively pursue those who chose to violate them," said Diane J. Humetewa, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona. "I would like to extend our thanks to all the federal, state and local agencies that worked to make this a successful prosecution."

Hill was responsible for maintaining Sun Drywall and Stucco's employment records. In December 2005, ICE agents inspected the employment documents of 115 of the company's employees and notified Hill that 11 of those employees were not authorized to work in the United States.

In pleading guilty, Hill admitted that the 11 illegal alien workers identified during the 2005 inspection continued to work for the company, some for as long as 14 months after the inspection. Hill also admitted she conspired to hire at least 63 illegal aliens and hide their employment records from ICE agents. She further acknowledged she wrote fraudulent letters to U.S. immigration officials on behalf of two unauthorized illegal alien employees stating they would have employment with the company if they obtained legal authorization to work in the United States. The letters falsely implied the employees were not working for the company, when in fact they were. Finally, Hill admitted she allowed a number of employees to change their name, and/or Social Security numbers, while they were employed by Sun Dry Wall.

Other Sun Dry Wall employees charged in the case were foreman Jose A. Gutierrez Tapia, manager Joaquin J. Neave, and Omar Reyes. They have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. The company's President, Ivan T. Hardt, is awaiting trial. Also awaiting trial is Santiago Trejo-Ramirez. Another defendant, Edward Durgin, pleaded guilty and was sentenced previously. Finally, Efrain Silvain-Avechuco, a former block manager for the firm, remains a fugitive.

ICE received assistance in the case from the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, the Arizona Fraudulent Identity Task Force (AFIT), the Cochise County Sheriff's Office and the Sierra Vista Police Department.