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San Diego-area car wash executives plead guilty to hiring illegal alien workers

Defendants agree to forfeit more than $85,000 in illicit profits

SAN DIEGO — The owner and manager of a San Diego-area car wash pleaded guilty Thursday to knowingly hiring illegal aliens following a seven-month investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

At a hearing in federal court, the president and owner of Betty's Hand Car Wash in San Diego, Ju Hea Kim, 54, and the business manager, Sun Jae Lee, 51, pleaded guilty to the felony offense of hiring at least 10 illegal aliens from 2010 to 2011. The defendants each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

According to the plea agreement, the company agreed to forfeit $85,610, which constitutes the proceeds gained from the company's illegal hiring practices. Additionally, at the upcoming sentencing hearing April 2, prosecutors will recommend an eight-month prison term for Lee, while Kim faces revocation of his visa and deportation to South Korea. The plea agreement also recommends that Kim and Lee each pay a fine.

In October 2011, agents from ICE HSI in San Diego arrested the defendants and executed a search warrant at the car wash and an apartment where the unauthorized workers lived. A total of 10 illegal aliens were taken into custody in conjunction with the investigation. During the search at the apartment, agents seized 10 sets of counterfeit documents, which included both fraudulent alien registration receipt cards, commonly known as "green cards," and phony Social Security cards.

Criminal prosecutions are just one of many tools ICE HSI is using 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 fiscal year 2011, ICE HSI initiated audits involving 2,496 employers nationwide – surpassing the record number conducted in all of fiscal year 2010. That figure includes 96 businesses in the San Diego area. During that same time frame, ICE issued 385 final fine notices totaling more than $10 million to employers across the country, again surpassing the record fine total in fiscal year 2010.