$2 Million Fine for Hiring Undocumented Workers

     HOUSTON (CN) - A major tree-trimming company avoided criminal prosecution for employing illegal immigrants by agreeing to forfeit $2 million to the United States, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
     Houston-based ABC Professional Tree Services provides vegetation management for electric utilities in a dozen or more states.
     Homeland Security Investigation agents in Birmingham, Ala. started checking out ABC in 2008 after receiving complaints that many of its workers were undocumented, prosecutors said.
     "In March 2008, agents conducted traffic stops on ABC crews and detained employees who were determined to be unlawfully present in the United States. In June 2008, agents reviewed the Employment Eligibility Verification Forms (I-9s) and supporting documentation for approximately 2,500 employees at ABC. The inspection revealed a significant number of employees, when hired, had presented invalid personal identification information. Later, HSI agents determined that, as of the second quarter of 2009, approximately 30 percent of the company's workforce consisted of undocumented aliens," prosecutors said in the statement.
     Homeland Security agents executed a search warrant on ABC's Houston headquarters on March 4, 2010, and seized employment records.
     "The government's investigation revealed ABC had, for years, ignored federal law by falsely attesting on I-9s that work authorization documents presented by new hires appeared genuine," prosecutors said.
     "In addition, for several years, ABC had received notices from the Social Security Administration known as 'no-match letters,' and similar information from the company's payroll processor, both of which indicated employee names and Social Security numbers did not match SSA records.
     "The company failed to take corrective measures, resulting in the continued employment of the undocumented aliens. ABC, in fact, derived at least $2 million in revenue from the provision of services to electrical utilities with its illegal workforce from 2006 through 2011. This figure represents the amount of money that ABC will forfeit under its non-prosecution agreement with the government."
     Prosecutors say ABC is complying with the law and has fired hundreds of undocumented workers.