HOUSTON (CN) — Waste Management Inc., the nation’s largest garbage company, agreed Wednesday to pay $5.5 million to avoid federal prosecution for hiring undocumented immigrants for 10 years at one of its Houston worksites, the Department of Justice said.
Co-founded in Chicago in 1969 by Wayne Huizenga, the late entrepreneur who also started Blockbuster Video and AutoNation, Waste Management is a Houston-based holding company that provides garbage and recyclable collection services through its subsidiaries.
After a five-year probe by the Department of Homeland Security, in which Waste Management of Texas cooperated with investigators, the company reached a non-prosecution deal in which it agreed to forfeit more than $5.5 million to the government.
It began when Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided a Waste Management garbage truck yard on Afton Road in Houston. ICE arrested 16 undocumented immigrants in the April 2012 raid at the yard, run at the time by Associated Marine & Industrial Staffing dba AMI Staffing, which had a $20 million contract with Waste Management. A federal grand jury charged five managers in May 2014 with harboring illegal aliens, aggravated identity theft, conspiring to employ and employing 10 or more illegal aliens, and inducing undocumented aliens to come to and stay in the United States.
Two of the indicted workers, both from El Salvador, took their cases to trial and a jury convicted them in April 2016 of all 18 counts against them. Both men were sentenced to more than 7 years in prison.
Prosecutors presented evidence at trial that after an audit revealed some workers had phony papers and AMI Staffing fired them in January 2012, the indicted managers told them to come back with false identities and bogus Social Security numbers.
A former AMI Staffing manager who pleaded guilty testified that she hired workers who returned with “good papers,” and that she and her co-defendants gave the identities of former employees or applicants to undocumented workers.
Waste Management spokeswoman Lisa Doughty told Courthouse News during the trial that it tightened up its employment practices after the raid.
“The steps we took included switching temporary staffing vendors, putting in place a new temporary labor program director, launching an internal immigration task force, and conducting random audits. Five employees were terminated,” Doughty said at the time.
Houston U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick said that the settlement requires Waste Management to continue those audits, and ensures the company will not lose its contracts with cities and businesses across the country, through which it serves 21 million customers.
“In considering whether to enter into such agreements, we must take into account the collateral consequences that a criminal prosecution would have on the company’s contracts with many municipalities across the country and the thousands of employees for the conduct of three managers at one operating unit in Houston,” Patrick said in a statement.