NEW ORLEANS – A Louisiana construction business and its owner pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to charges of conspiring to hide more than $280,000 gained by harboring and employing illegal aliens at multiple company work sites. The guilty plea follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Ramon Santos, 43, of Kenner, La., owner of Rendon Construction LLC, and the company itself each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Santos faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. Rendon Construction LLC faces five years probation and a $500,000 fine.
According to court documents, Rendon Construction and Santos knowingly employed illegal alien workers and encouraged existing workers to recruit other illegal aliens by word of mouth. The company then paid workers in cash by funneling money through a shell company to conceal the nature of these cash payments between April and July 2011.
"Companies that violate federal law by paying workers illegally 'under the table' seek to gain an unfair advantage over legitimate businesses that play by the rules," said Raymond R. Parmer, special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. "This practice denies job opportunities to law-abiding citizens and deprives federal, state and local governments the tax revenue needed to provide the essential services we all rely upon."
Financial records show Santos authorized twelve checks from a Rendon Construction account made payable to Diablo Construction, which was a shell corporation without any assets or employees. Santos then cashed the checks through a check-cashing service and used the proceeds to pay his illegal alien workers at company job sites.
Sentencing is scheduled for February 15 in U.S. District Court. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Louisiana State Police and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office assisted with the investigation.