Asplundh Tree Expert Co. (“Asplundh”), a national tree services company, admitted it engaged in a scheme to hire undocumented immigrants and will now have to pay a record setting fine. Asplundh pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge and is now ordered to pay a criminal forfeiture judgment of $80 million, plus a $15 million civil penalty for failure to follow immigration law.
According to the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia, Asplundh had knowingly hired thousands of unauthorized workers between 2010 and 2014 using fraudulent identification documents. Asplundh was subject to a six year audit by investigators with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) which led to the discovery that Asplundh used a hiring system that allowed top managers to remain “willfully blind” to the fact that undocumented immigrants were being hired with identification papers that supervisors knew were fraudulent.
Asplundh’s hiring system was developed after a 2009 audit by Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, which revealed the company employed undocumented workers who were not eligible to work in the country. The company fired at least 100 undocumented workers but a regional manager later instructed supervisors to hire some of the undocumented immigrants back by accepting fake forms of identification. Federal investigators assert Asplundh used the same strategy to keep, approximately 10 percent of its 30,000 person workforce who were undocumented immigrants on its payrolls over four years. Asplundh earned approximately $800 million in profits during that time.
In addition to the record setting fine, Asplundh faces a more damaging business challenge. Federal, state, and local governments could decide that Asplundh’s criminal conviction would be a sufficient reason to “debar” it from further government contracts, an important part of its revenues.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
Employers must be vigilant in ensuring all work authorization documents are in order for each employee before offering employment. For a refresher, please see our Form I-9 eBlast here. The federal government has sent a strong, clear message they are actively looking for immigration violations and they will hold employers accountable. Should you need any advice on employee work authorization compliance, contact the experts at the Saqui Law Group.