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September 9, 2014Salt Lake City, UT, United StatesLabor Exploitation

Utah luxury hotel chain forfeits nearly $2 million for hiring illegal workers

SALT LAKE CITY – Salt Lake City-based Grand America Hotels and Resorts will forfeit nearly $2 million for hiring unauthorized workers, including illegal aliens, according to a non-prosecution agreement signed last week between the company, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The Sinclair Services Company subsidiary, which operates hotel and resort properties in Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California, and Idaho, will avoid criminal prosecution in exchange for its full cooperation with HSI’s investigation and taking action to correct its hiring practices.

According to facts laid out in the agreement, several lower-level Grand America employees and mid-level managers conspired to rehire unauthorized workers amidst an HSI administrative audit of I-9 employee verification forms that began in September 2010. The audit ended a year later with Grand America being notified that 133 employees were not authorized to work in the United States. The company was issued a warning notice and it told HSI it had terminated the employees.  However, HSI special agents later learned the conspirators created three temporary employment agencies, essentially shell companies, two in August 2011 and one in October 2011, to rehire 43 of the unauthorized workers. The agreement says most of the workers returned under different names using fraudulent identity documents.

“All industries, regardless of size, location and type are expected to comply with the law,” said Kumar Kibble, special agent in charge of HSI Denver, which oversees Utah investigations. “As this significant settlement demonstrates, there are real consequences for businesses that employ an illegal workforce.”

As part of the settlement, Grand America will forfeit $1,950,000 to the Department of Homeland Security and is required to take substantial remedial measures, which are expected to cost the company nearly $500,000 to implement. Those measures include: adopting new policies to comply with immigration law; incorporating immigration law compliance clauses into labor service contracts; re-training human resources employees on I-9 procedures; and agreeing to continue to use the E-Verify employment eligibility verification website. In addition, Grand America has agreed to retain immigration and corporate counsel to advise the company regarding hiring and immigration procedures.

Grand America has pledged to cooperate with HSI on future immigration-based compliance programs to ensure that the company continues to maintain a lawful workforce.

Prosecutors note in the agreement that Grand America cooperated fully with the investigation and turned over all incriminating evidence obtained through its own internal inquiry into the matter. The company has since fired the individuals involved in the conspiracy, who, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen, will be prosecuted for their conduct.

This settlement comes as a result of an I-9 employee verification form audit and subsequent criminal investigation into unlawful hiring practices conducted by HSI. Employers are required by the Immigration Reform and Control Act to maintain for inspection original I-9 forms for all current employees. In the case of former employees, retention of forms is required for a period of at least three years from the date of hire or for one-year after the employee is no longer employed, whichever is longer. HSI conducts these audits in an effort to protect employment opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce and to target businesses that knowingly employ unauthorized workers.