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San Diego-area bakery owner, manager plead guilty to employing illegal alien workers

SAN DIEGO – The owner and manager of a La Jolla, Calif., bakery pleaded guilty Thursday to a longtime practice of hiring illegal aliens following a four-year probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

At a hearing in federal court, The French Gourmet, Inc., along with Michel Malecot, 59, the business owner and president, and Richard Kauffmann, 58, the bakery's manager, pleaded guilty to the felony offense of hiring at least 10 illegal aliens from 2006 to 2007. The defendants also admitted employing illegal alien workers as early as 2003, despite being fined in the 1990s by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for employing illegal aliens.

"These guilty pleas show our commitment to holding employers accountable," said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in San Diego. "HSI will continue to investigate employers who build their business model on exploiting illegal alien labor. Our goal is to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce."

In pleading guilty, the company and Kauffman admitted they repeatedly rehired illegal alien workers, even after the company received "no-match" letters from the Social Security Administration advising employees' names did not match the Social Security numbers reported by the company on its tax returns.

Malecot also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to continuing to employ illegal aliens. Malecot admitted that 91 illegal aliens were employed unlawfully at the French Gourmet between 2005 and 2008, and that he knew at least seven of those individuals were not authorized to work in the United States.

In conjunction with the guilty pleas, The French Gourmet and Malecot agreed to forfeit the illicit proceeds gained from the bakery's illegal hiring practices. Although the total financial penalty is expected to be between $350,000 and $650,000, the exact amount of the forfeiture and fine will be determined by U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan at a sentencing hearing December 19.

Kauffmann faces a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. Malecot faces a maximum of six months in custody and a fine of $3,000 per illegal alien worker.

Criminal prosecutions are just one of many tools ICE HSI uses to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect job opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce. That enforcement strategy also includes the expanded use of civil penalties, employer audits and debarment. In the first 11 months of fiscal year 2011, ICE HSI initiated audits involving 2,393 employers nationwide – surpassing the record number conducted in all of fiscal year 2010. That figure includes 83 businesses in the San Diego area. During that same time frame, ICE issued 308 final fine notices totaling more than $8 million to employers across the country, again surpassing the record fine total in fiscal year 2010.