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May 31, 2018Jacksonville, FL, United StatesLabor Exploitation

Honduran nationals sentenced for wire fraud, illegally employing workers

Jacksonville, Fla. – Two unlawfully present Honduran nationals were sentenced Wednesday for conspiracy to commit wire fraud for their roles in a scheme that created shell companies to mask the unauthorized employment of workers in the construction industry. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Jacksonville office.

“This case is the result of HSI’s combined investigative expertise in financial crimes and worksite enforcement,” said HSI Tampa Special Agent in Charge James C. Spero. “HSI special agents will continue to identify, disrupt, and eliminate the criminal schemes used to exploit our financial industry and to garner profit from the labor of undocumented aliens.”

Anyi “Angie” Artica-Romero, 33, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. Milton Noel Romero, 35, who has been in custody for about 14 months, was sentenced to time served. The defendants were also ordered to forfeit more than $800,000 in illegal proceeds from the scheme. The court also ordered the defendants to pay more than $31,000 in restitution. 

According to court documents, the defendants facilitated the illegal employment of unlawfully present foreign nationals in the construction industry. Construction contractors and subcontractors entered into agreements with shell companies controlled by the defendants to provide workers, most of whom were undocumented aliens, for the contractors and subcontractors.

By obtaining and paying the workers through the shell companies, the contractors and subcontractors could disclaim responsibility for ensuring the workers were legally authorized to work in the U.S., state and federal payroll taxes were paid and workers compensation insurance was provided. 

After creating the shell companies, the defendants applied for workers compensation insurance policies covering a period from Sept. 2015 through July 2017. The defendants represented in the applications that the policies would cover up to 19 employees with estimated annual payrolls of no more than $410,800. The insurance companies issued policies based on this fraudulent information in the applications, which the defendants then “rented” to numerous construction contractors and subcontractors employing hundreds of workers with more than $20 million in annual payroll as purported proof of workers compensation insurance required under Florida law.

The contractors and subcontractors wrote payroll checks to the shell companies for work performed by the workers. The defendants cashed the checks and distributed the cash to construction crew leaders, who then paid the workers in cash. No state or federal payroll taxes, such as for Medicare and Social Security, were deducted from the workers’ pay, in violation of Florida and federal law.

The defendants kept approximately four percent of each payroll check as a “rental” fee. During the period of the scheme, they cashed more than $20 million in payroll checks, with the four percent fee totaling more than $800,000 in illegal proceeds.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Arnold B. Corsmeier, with the office of U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez, Middle District Florida.