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January 24, 2012Houston, TX, United StatesLabor Exploitation

2 companies admit to hiring illegal aliens, each forfeit $2 million

HOUSTON — Atrium Companies, the owner of Houston-based Champion Window, and Advanced Containment Systems Inc. (ACSI), have agreed to adhere to revised immigration compliance programs and to each pay $2 million as forfeited funds to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The announcement was made Tuesday by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, along with Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston. For its part, the United States has agreed not to criminally prosecute the company.

"These non-prosecution agreements require each company to continue their substantial remedial measures to address past immigration violations, the payment of a significant penalty 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 ongoing business concerns," said Magidson.

"These forfeitures represent companies who failed to comply with our nation's labor laws," said Rutt. "Employers who knowingly hire an illegal workforce contribute to illegal immigration and decrease lawful employment opportunities across the nation."

ACSI is a company located in South Houston that designs and manufactures custom emergency response vehicles and trailers. ACSI offers emergency decontamination systems, restroom and shower trailers, surge systems, mobile command centers, abatement equipment, mobile laboratory facilities and interchangeable pods.

Atrium Companies is the largest manufacturer and distributor of residential vinyl and aluminum windows and patio doors in the United States with a total workforce around 3,700 employees. The company operates 13 subsidiaries located in seven different states and Canada.

Both companies received multiple notices from the Social Security Administration (SSA) known as "no-match letters," which indicated employee names and Social Security numbers did not match SSA records. The companies failed to take corrective measures, resulting in the continued employment of the undocumented aliens. For ACSI, this resulted in about $2 million in wages paid to these undocumented aliens between 2005 and 2009. Champion derived at least $2 million in revenue from the sales of its products manufactured and services provided with the use of its predominantly illegal workforce from 2006 through 2010.

In February 2011, ICE HSI completed an I-9 (employment eligibility verification forms) audit on ACSI. The audit revealed that from 2005 to 2009 about 44 percent of the workforce at the ACSI facility was undocumented, many employed with numerous "egregiously suspect" identification documents, including misspellings of agency names and/or containing the words "novelty item." In November 2009, ACSI ran all of their employees' names through E-Verify to determine their employment eligibility, and terminated those determined to be illegal aliens unauthorized to work in the U.S.

Similarly, Champion had engaged in a pattern and practice of hiring undocumented workers for years prior to its acquisition by Atrium Companies in June 2006. Champion managers ignored the requirements of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) by falsely attesting on I-9 forms that work authorization documents presented by new hires appeared genuine. An audit conducted by HSI in early 2011 revealed that about 269 of Champion's 451-person workforce consisted of undocumented aliens. At the request of the government, all of the undocumented aliens were terminated from Champion by the end of April 2011.

The ICE HSI investigation also revealed that, since acquiring Champion, management at Atrium had become aware of the possibility of large numbers of undocumented aliens being employed at Champion's Houston factory. A follow-up audit conducted by ICE HSI of Atrium Companies' remaining 12 subsidiaries in May 2011 revealed that about 8.3 percent of the parent company's 3,382 employees (excluding Champion employees) were undocumented aliens. All of these workers were terminated within a matter of weeks.

Since December 2010, Atrium Companies has taken substantial remedial measures to ensure compliance with immigration law in its hiring process, including revising its immigration compliance procedures to include new policies concerning the proper completion, retention and auditing of I-9 forms and for responding to SSA no match letters. Under the terms of the non-prosecution agreement, Atrium Continues must also hire a full-time chief compliance officer and must also continue to consult with immigration counsel in order to ensure the legality of its workforce.

The cases against ACSI and Champion were handled by Assistant U. S. Attorneys Kebharu H. Smith and David Searle, Southern District of Texas.

Updated: 09/23/2014