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2 sentenced for hiring illegal migrants

Times Staff Writer

In a rare criminal prosecution of an employer in California, two executives of a fence building company were sentenced in federal court in San Diego on Wednesday to three years’ probation for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, officials said.

U.S. District Judge Barry T. Moskowitz also sentenced Melvin Kay, president of the Riverside-based Golden State Fence Co., and Vice President Michael McLaughlin to 180 days of home confinement and 1,040 hours of community service, and fined each $200,000 and $100,000, respectively.

In addition, Golden State was ordered to forfeit $4.7 million in profits earned with illegal workers to the federal government.

On Dec. 14, Kay and McLaughlin pleaded guilty to the felony charge and admitted hiring 10 or more illegal workers between January 1999 and November 2005.

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The prosecution had urged six months of prison time for the executives. But the judge opted for probation, citing the company’s good treatment of its employees, including providing fair wages and benefits, said officials and attorneys for both sides.

Golden State had a history of warnings from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In July 1999, an inspection of the company’s Oceanside office, which is north of San Diego, found at least 15 undocumented workers. The company responded in a letter that it had terminated their employment.

In September 2004, ICE officials found that at least 49 employees at the Oceanside office were illegal immigrant workers. In August 2005, officials found at least three illegal workers in the Riverside office found previously in the 1999 inspection. In November 2005, ICE executed search warrants for both offices and arrested 16 undocumented workers. The arrested workers were placed in removal proceedings, officials said.

“This is the first criminal prosecution of an employer for violating hiring laws of illegal aliens in San Diego,” said Michael Carney, acting special agent in charge for ICE in San Diego. “Hopefully the word will get out after this case, and after a few other cases, that will have a deterrent effect.”

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The criminal prosecution of Golden State executives is the latest example of tougher enforcement sought by the Bush administration, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., a think tank that supports tighter controls on immigration.

But Krikorian said he believes that the administration “gave the green light” to step up enforcement of immigration laws to build up political credibility so that Congress would approve an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

“I describe it as a spoonful of enforcement will help the amnesty go down,” Krikorian said. “It burnishes the administration’s credentials as being tough on enforcement.”

According to ICE, in 2002 there were 25 criminal arrests nationwide in workplace enforcement cases, which include hiring illegal immigrants, money laundering and other charges. In 2006, there were 716.

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com


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