U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan has ordered The French Gourmet, Inc. to forfeit $109,200 in illicit proceeds gained from the illegal hiring practices and pay $277,375 for its felony conviction of employing more than 10 illegal alien workers in a 12-month period.
This case has gained considerable attention and is a reminder to employers to make sure they have a proper I-9 Compliance Program.
In this case, the French Gourmet operated a restaurant, bakery and catering business for decades in La Jolla. All three defendants pleaded guilty in October to having hired numerous illegal alien workers between 2005 and 2008, and continued to employ the unauthorized workers knowing the aliens did not have legal authority to work in the United States. The defendants further admitted to hiring and employing illegal alien workers continuously as early as 2003, despite being fined in the 1990s by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for employing illegal aliens. The pattern of illegal activity continued until May 2008 when agents from HSI searched the restaurant and arrested 18 illegal alien workers. The company 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. Source: ICE
These are heavy fines for a small business to pay. It would not surprise me if the company filed some sort of bankruptcy petition after this. ICE, however, can and will go after companies. Companies should consult with immigration lawyers to to ensure proper I-9 compliance.
According to ICE, “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 fiscal year 2011, ICE criminally charged a record-breaking 221 owners, employers, managers and/or supervisors – up from 196 in fiscal year 2010. In addition, during 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 83 businesses in the San Diego area. Likewise in fiscal year 2011, 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.”