The president of a drywall and stucco company in Arizona pleaded guilty Friday to federal criminal charges resulting from a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that revealed he hired unauthorized alien workers. . As part of the plea agreement, the top executive of the company agreed to pay $225,000 in restitution to the Department of Labor for overtime back wages owed under the Fair Labor Standards Act. He also agreed to pay an administrative forfeiture of $225,000 to ICE HSI.

The company also pleaded guilty to unlawful employment of aliens. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Sun Drywall cannot knowingly hire, recruit or employ unauthorized aliens, and the firm is required to maintain I-9 employment verification forms for each of its workers. The company further agreed to waive a three-day notification requirement with regard to inspection of its hiring records.

In March 2007, ICE HSI agents determined that at least 27 of the company’s employees were not authorized to work in the United States and that company did not present the paperwork for these individuals upon request for inspection. Conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Knowingly hiring illegal aliens is punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of $3,000 for each unauthorized worker.

Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted audits of employee files at more than 2,900 companies. The agency has levied a record $3 million in civil fines so far this year on businesses that hired unauthorized immigrants, according to official figures. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a new round of I-9 employment verification form audits around November 7, 2011. The audits are believed to total in the range of 500 companies and to be prompted by tips given to ICE furthering the Obama administration’s focus on targeting employers (and their managers, executives, and recruiters) that employ unauthorized foreign nationals.

With the increasing number of I-9 audits, companies should take stringent measures to ensure that they comply with federal and state regulations to avoid hefty fines and negative publicity. Internal audits and setting up a consistent practice of filling up I-9 forms would be a logical first step towards it.

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