HOUSTON – An east Texas man pleaded guilty Friday to various charges surrounding harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage and financial gain.
This guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, along with Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston.
Thomas Gard, 50, of Nederland, Texas, was charged along with Phillip Taylor Hallmark, 49, of Winnie, Texas, in relation to transporting at least 42 illegal aliens to cleanup an oil spill in Kalamazoo, Mich., in August 2010. Hallmark, the owner of Hallmark Industrial Services Inc. (Hallmark Inc.), pleaded guilty to the conspiracy April 11, 2013. Gard was a manager at Hallmark.
"Jobs are a major reason people come to America," said Moskowitz. "Anyone who takes advantage of this job magnet to hire unauthorized workers so they can make an unfair profit compared with their competing businesses will lose these profits and their freedom."
According to the facts supporting Gard’s plea, Hallmark Inc. was contracted by Garner Environmental to clean up a ruptured Enbridge pipeline that resulted in an oil spill in Kalamazoo. HSI special agents learned that Hallmark knowingly employed illegal aliens to clean up the oil spill, and the company fraudulently completed work authorization forms on their behalf. It was a part of the conspiracy that the aliens were housed in hotels, provided meals and transported to and from the worksite while they worked to clean the oil spill.
To further the employment of the illegal aliens, Hallmark and Gard paid them in cash. Hallmark Inc. cashed the illegal aliens’ checks en masse at a local bank in Winnie, Texas, for the work done in Michigan. Once the checks were cashed, Hallmark Inc. paid the illegal aliens less than what he was paid by the contractor. The aliens claimed they never saw the checks before they were cashed and were paid $800 per week.
The investigation revealed the illegal aliens received less than what the contractor paid the company.
Gard admitted he conspired with Hallmark to transport the illegal aliens back from Michigan after a now former U.S. Congressman accused Hallmark Inc. of hiring illegal aliens to clean up the Kalamazoo oil spill. Gard assisted in arranging the transportation, travel, food and hotel accommodations for the illegal aliens.
Both Hallmark and Gard face a maximum of 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 fine at sentencing. Sentencing for Hallmark is set for Oct. 25; Gard will be sentenced Nov. 8.
This investigation was conducted by HSI, and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kebharu Smith and Suzanne Elmilady, Southern District of Texas.