PHILADELPHIA — A six year U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Philadelphia investigation led to the largest civil settlement agreement ever levied by ICE.
Asplundh Tree Experts, Co., one of the largest privately-held companies in the United States, headquartered in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, (“Asplundh”), pleaded guilty today to unlawfully employing aliens, in connection with a scheme in which the highest levels of Asplundh management remained willfully blind while lower level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States.
Following the guilty plea hearing today, Asplundh was sentenced to pay a forfeiture money judgment in the amount of $80 million dollars and abide by an Administrative Compliance Agreement, as set forth by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Philadelphia. Pursuant to a separate Civil Settlement Agreement, Asplundh will pay an additional $15 million dollars to satisfy civil claims arising out of their failure to comply with immigration law.
The $95 million dollar recovery, including $80 million dollars criminal forfeiture money judgment and $15 million dollars in civil payment, represents the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.
According to court documents, from 2010 until December 2014, Asplundh, an industry leader in tree trimming and brush clearance for power and gas lines, hired and rehired employees in many regions in the United States accepting identification documents it knew to be false and fraudulent. A six-year HSI audit and investigation revealed that the company decentralized its hiring so Sponsors (the highest levels of management) could remain willfully blind while Supervisors and General Foremen (2nd and 3rd level supervisors) hired ineligible workers, including unauthorized aliens, in the field. Hiring was by word of mouth referrals rather than through any systematic application process. This manner of hiring enabled Supervisors and General Foremen to hire a work force that was readily available and at their disposal.
This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit. With a motivated work force, including unauthorized aliens willing to be relocated and respond to weather related events around the nation, Asplundh had crews which were easily mobilized that enabled them to dominate the market. Asplundh provided all the incentives to managers to skirt immigration law.
“Our partners at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Philadelphia are to be commended for their work on this lengthy audit and investigation, spanning six years," said Acting United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen. "Today’s settlement and the compliance agreement makes it clear, that companies must play by the rules and treat everyone fairly.”
Worksite enforcement investigations often involve egregious violations of criminal statutes by employers and widespread abuses. Such cases often involve additional violations such as alien smuggling, alien harboring, document fraud, money laundering, fraud or worker exploitation. ICE also investigates employers who employ force, threats or coercion (for example, threatening to have employees deported) in order to keep the unauthorized alien workers from reporting substandard wage or working conditions.
By uncovering such violations, ICE can send a strong deterrent message to other employers who knowingly employ illegal aliens.
ICE also works with the private sector to educate employers about their responsibilities to hire only authorized workers and how to accurately verify employment eligibility. The Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers (IMAGE) program assists employers in targeted sectors develop a more secure and stable workforce. It also enhances fraudulent document awareness through education and training.
Companies interested in more information about the IMAGE program can visit ICE.gov/image.