Thursday, June 19, 2008

Agents arrest five supervisors at poultry plant (Greenville News)

Agents arrest five supervisors at poultry plant
More arrests expected in immigration probe, authorities say

By David Dykes • STAFF WRITER • June 18, 2008

Federal agents have arrested five supervisors at a Greenville poultry plant as part of an investigation into alleged immigration violations, authorities said Wednesday.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said immigration officials arrested the House of Raeford Farms employees after finding what appeared to be false information on employment records at the local chicken-processing facility on Rutherford Road near North Pleasantburg Drive.

McDonald said the investigation involving Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been ongoing for months.

"There will be additional arrests," McDonald told The Greenville News.

In a statement, House of Raeford said it was "cooperating fully" with immigration officials and "will continue to do so."

Immigration officials said four men, all of Mexico, were arrested Tuesday based on criminal arrest warrants for charges that included aggravated identity theft; fraud and misuse of permits, visas and other documents; and false statements.

All had their initial court appearances and were in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, the officials said.

Those arrested were identified in court records as Simon Gomez, Juan Rodriguez, Juan Suarez and Evaristo Vasquez.

The fifth person arrested, identified in court records as Guadalupe Templos, made his initial appearance Wednesday in federal court in Greenville before U.S. Magistrate William Catoe. Templos, facing similar charges, said in court he was from Mexico.

McDonald said each of those arrested had "supervisory responsibility."

He said they allegedly supplied false information on federal immigration forms for employment verification.

Attorneys for the five men couldn’t be reached for comment.

Affidavits filed in U.S. District Court by a federal immigration agent alleged that the employees used an invalid Social Security number, an invalid alien registration card or another person’s Social Security number to get their jobs at the plant.

The agent, Paul A. Anderson, described in one affidavit how in May, as a result of a work-site enforcement investigation, he received an employment verification form from the human resources manager of a company in Greenville.

The company wasn’t identified, but McDonald confirmed it was the local plant of North Carolina-based House of Raeford.

Anderson said that in June he ran a record check through the immigration enforcement database on the resident alien card Templos provided to get his job, and found the card’s number belonged to another person, according to the affidavit.

A record check also found Templos used a Social Security number that belonged to someone else, Anderson said in his affidavit.

In its statement, House of Raeford said it supplied federal agents with information they requested for an audit of employment verification forms and the company supports efforts to enforce immigration laws.

In a series earlier this year about working conditions in the poultry industry, The Charlotte Observer reported that House of Raeford increasingly relied on Latino immigrants. The newspaper also reported that the company had hidden the extent of injuries that have occurred inside its factory walls, and workers who were hurt have been either ignored, intimidated or fired.

The director of the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission said Wednesday that the agency is continuing its review of the poultry company’s practices, including its reporting of workers’ injuries at its Greenville plant.

Gary R. Thibault, executive director of the state commission, said his agency should complete that review "in the near future."

He has declined to discuss specifics.

In a statement posted on the company’s Web site, House of Raeford officials said it is company policy that injury records are kept "in accordance with OSHA guidelines and legal requirements for recording medical incidents and attention given to employees."

They were referring to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose role is to promote the safety and health of America’s workers by setting and enforcing workplace standards.

The company, based in Raeford, N.C., has plants in North Carolina and South Carolina, including Greenville and West Columbia.

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