Dykema Gossett PLLC

Dykema Labor & Employment Law Blog

Organic Herb Grower in Washington Fined $1 Million for Knowingly Employing Illegal Aliens


Organic Herb Grower in Washington Fined $1 Million for Knowingly Employing Illegal Aliens

The federal government has continued its campaign of prosecuting employers of illegal aliens.  Herbco International, Inc. and three top executives pleaded guilty to felony offenses and were sentenced to a fine of $1 million and five years' probation for harboring, concealing, shielding an illegal alien, and encouraging and inducing an illegal alien to reside in the United States.

They admitted they knowingly hired illegal aliens at their Duvall, Washington packing facility in violation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law requires employers to review documents from each worker they hire to verify they are legally present in the United States and authorized to be employed.

Herbco supplies fresh organic herbs to nearly 2,700 grocers.

Executives, Edward Williamson "Ted" Andrews, III 58, of Seattle; David William Lykins Jr., vice president, 55, of Lake Stevens; and Debra Rae Howard, general manager, 56, of Woodinville, each pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense and were sentenced to one year probation for aiding and abetting a pattern or practice of employing illegal aliens.

Court documents indicate HerbCo rehired illegal aliens for a secret night shift and paid them in cash to conceal their crime from law enforcement. Company executives did this after informing Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that they had laid off all their illegal workers following an HSI audit of the company's I-9 employment eligibility verification forms.

HSI had conducted a review of the company's I-9 employment eligibility verification forms in early 2011 and found significant discrepancies. Of the more than 300 forms reviewed, more than 200 were suspect. Within days of the government's notice of those discrepancies, HerbCo laid off 86 employees who reportedly couldn't produce valid documentation proving their U.S. employment eligibility.

According to US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (USICE) last fiscal year, employers nationwide were ordered to pay nearly $10.5 million in civil fines for hiring violations. In addition, criminal charges were filed against a record-breaking 221 owners, employers, managers and/or supervisors – up from 196 in fiscal year 2010.

Businesses can avoid facing these types of penalties by taking proactive steps to ensure their workforce is authorized to work in the US and by making a good faith effort to verify employment eligibility.  This can include audits of Forms I-9 and the documentation provided by employees and training those employees who are responsible for completing them.