HOUSTON - The owner and two managers of Action Rags USA were convicted and sentenced Wednesday for harboring illegal aliens. The sentences were announced by U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson, Southern District of Texas, and Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations in Houston.
U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison accepted the guilty pleas of Mubarik "Baco" Kahlon, 45, and Cirilia "Cici" Baron, 39, to the federal felony charge. The court sentenced Baron, a manager at Action Rags who had day-to-day involvement with managing the business, to 11 months in prison or time served. Kahlon, the owner of Action Rags, was sentenced to two years probation and fined $6,000. A second manager, Mayra Herrera-Gutierrez, 32, who pleaded guilty in August 2008 to conspiring to encourage illegal aliens to reside within the United States, was also sentenced June 10 to 11 months in prison or time served.
In March 2003, Kahlon established Action Rags, a business that recycled discarded clothing for resale in developing countries, including India, Pakistan and nations in Africa and South America. Thrift stores and relief agencies such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army regularly receive donations of excess clothing they cannot sell. Action Rags purchases such clothing from these agencies and sorts, packages, recycles and exports it for sale. Action Rags employed workers in its warehouse at 1225 Port Houston St. in Houston who sorted, selected, packaged and loaded the clothing for shipping.
ICE began investigating Action Rags following complaints in May 2007 that led investigators to locate and interview a number of former and current employees of the plant. According to the criminal complaint, the one-year investigation revealed that the company did not complete I-9 forms to verify eligibility for employment. The investigation also determined that the company hired illegal aliens and paid them in cash until they were able to purchase fraudulent identity and Social Security cards at local flea markets.
ICE agents executed a federal search warrant at the administrative offices and warehouse areas of Action Rags on June 25, 2008. As a result of that action, computer forensic information and employment-related documents were seized. Agents also discovered and arrested 166 illegal aliens, including 136 Mexican nationals, 12 Honduran nationals, 10 Guatemalan nationals and eight nationals of El Salvador. After executing the search warrant, the illegal aliens were interviewed concerning their employment at Action Rags resulting in charges against Kahlon, Baron and Gutierrez. Gutierrez and Baron are themselves illegal aliens, and are subject to deportation upon their release.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Doug Davis and Ryan D. McConnell, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting this case.