Documents: Plant owners 'willfully' used ineligible workers

MGN Online

Six of seven Mississippi chicken processing plants raided Wednesday were "willfully and unlawfully" employing people who lacked authorization to work in the United States.

Posted: Aug 9, 2019 3:40 PM
Updated: Aug 9, 2019 3:42 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Six of seven Mississippi chicken processing plants raided Wednesday were "willfully and unlawfully" employing people who lacked authorization to work in the United States, including workers wearing electronic monitoring bracelets at work for previous immigration violations, according to unsealed court documents.

Federal investigators behind the biggest immigration raid in a decade relied on confidential informants inside the plants in addition to data from the monitoring bracelets to help make their case, according to the documents.

The sworn statements supported the search warrants that led a judge to authorize Wednesday's raids, and aren't official charges, but give the first detailed look at the evidence involved in what Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have described as a yearlong investigation.

Officials arrested 680 people during Wednesday's operation targeting seven chicken processing plants in Mississippi.

The statements allege that managers at two processing plants owned by the same Chinese man appeared to be actively participating in fraud. They also show that supervisors at other plants at least turned a blind eye to evidence strongly suggesting job applicants were using fraudulent documents and stolen or made-up Social Security numbers.

The documents say federal officials have evidence from electronic monitoring bracelets that people who already had been arrested for immigration violations and weren't allowed to work in the United States were working at all seven plants that were raided.

The number of criminal convictions for hiring people without documents has historically been low because prosecutors must prove employers knowingly hired someone in the United States illegally. Employers often say they were fooled by fraudulent documents.

From October 2018 to May there were eight new prosecutions for hiring people working illegally and four new convictions nationwide. Among those who have been sentenced to prison are the owner of an Iowa meatpacking plant that was raided in 2008 and owner of a Tennessee meatpacking plant raided last year.

Companies can also face administrative fines based on audits of I-9 forms, which American employees fill out when they're hired, presenting documents meant to prove they can legally work in the country. Those audits of I-9 forms could also be a step toward criminal prosecution.

Investigators allege the most brazen fraud took place at two smaller chicken processing plants — PH Food Inc. in Morton and A&B Inc. in Pelahatchie. Sworn statements identify Huo You Liang of California, known to his Mississippi employees as Victor, as the owner of both.

A PH Food employee, acting as a confidential informant, told Homeland Security investigators that the vast majority of the 240 employees at PH's plant in Morton and the 80 employees at A&B's plant in Pelahatchie didn't have proper work documents, including many Guatemalans.

The informant told investigators that employees used their real names, combined with made-up Social Security numbers to apply for jobs at PH and A&B. "The payroll companies, as well as PH Food Inc. and A&B Inc. do not verify the authenticity of their documents," the informant told investigators. Mississippi state law requires employers to check documents using E-Verify, an online federal verification system that is otherwise voluntary.

For example, ICE officers arrested Osiel Avila-Parra, a Mexican citizen in the United States illegally, as he was leaving PH Food in April, and found a PH Food payroll check stub in Avila's name.

Calls to A&B and PH Food on Friday went unanswered. A man who identified himself Thursday to the Clarion Ledger as Jun Lian said the plant hoped to reopen Friday. YanJung Liang is the registered president of PH, while Wei Bin Liang is the registered president of A&B. It's unclear if those two are related to Huo You Liang.

The evidence also included a video and audio conversation involving secretary Heather Carrillo and the informant, recorded May 14 at PH in Morton. A summary presented in court papers says, "Carrillo said that she was looking for some 'papers' for 'Iris,' but 'Iris wasn't going anywhere because she was working with Victor (Huo You Liang) for a good time (duration of employment).'" It says Carrillo said she was pretty sure A&B manager Salvador Delgado doesn't want it reported because she knew which of his employees are real and which are fraudulent.

The agent then notes that investigators believe Delgado has also been embezzling money from A&B by adding fraudulent names and Social Security numbers to the payroll and keeping the proceeds for himself.

The summary later says Carrillo didn't fear Delgado and "she knew he was dirty."

The warrants state PH Food uses Personnel Management Inc. of Shreveport, Louisiana, to process payroll and perform some human resources functions, and that investigators believed the use of the company was an attempt by Liang and Carrillo to minimize their responsibility for employing workers without legal authorization.

"Carrillo then stated that (it) is too much responsibility when a temporary company is not used," is how the warrant summarized the conversation.

Officials earlier stated that in addition to the seven Mississippi chicken plants, they were executing a search warrant at a Shreveport site on Wednesday. ICE spokesman Bryan Cox was unable to confirm that Personnel Management had been searched. The Louisiana company didn't respond immediately on Friday to a phone message and email seeking more information.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 65436

Reported Deaths: 1848
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5544117
DeSoto357430
Harrison240635
Madison239664
Rankin225132
Jackson222542
Jones185058
Forrest175855
Washington160640
Lauderdale139790
Lee138333
Neshoba128492
Lamar119214
Oktibbeha109638
Bolivar109333
Lowndes105837
Warren103332
Panola102612
Scott99520
Sunflower99224
Lafayette95615
Copiah94528
Leflore90762
Pike89635
Holmes87348
Grenada83821
Yazoo81512
Pontotoc8098
Lincoln79641
Leake78625
Simpson78630
Monroe76952
Wayne75321
Coahoma71511
Tate70527
Marshall6749
Marion64320
Winston61116
Adams61025
Covington61013
Union60116
George5494
Newton53711
Pearl River52937
Tallahatchie52210
Attala51525
Walthall49119
Chickasaw45019
Noxubee44811
Calhoun4079
Prentiss40310
Claiborne39813
Alcorn3975
Smith39713
Clay39214
Jasper3819
Hancock37314
Tishomingo3635
Itawamba34810
Tippah34213
Clarke32525
Tunica3226
Montgomery3153
Lawrence3127
Yalobusha31210
Humphreys28311
Carroll26011
Quitman2521
Greene23611
Jefferson Davis2286
Kemper22714
Amite2256
Webster22512
Perry2237
Wilkinson20113
Jefferson1946
Sharkey1944
Stone1864
Benton1420
Choctaw1314
Franklin1192
Issaquena251
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 94827

Reported Deaths: 1674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12743242
Mobile9565206
Montgomery6521148
Madison525030
Tuscaloosa410371
Unassigned347461
Baldwin344323
Shelby320133
Marshall309034
Lee262844
Morgan233017
Etowah207530
DeKalb177113
Calhoun170413
Elmore169438
Walker150264
Houston136412
Russell13422
Dallas131123
St. Clair131016
Limestone128413
Franklin125820
Cullman120112
Colbert115613
Lauderdale113917
Autauga106521
Escambia105416
Talladega98613
Jackson9454
Tallapoosa84979
Chambers83538
Dale82323
Blount7743
Chilton7676
Butler75935
Coffee7475
Covington72620
Pike6907
Barbour5695
Lowndes56724
Marion56724
Marengo54614
Clarke4969
Hale46726
Bullock45411
Winston44411
Perry4364
Wilcox41810
Bibb4164
Monroe4154
Randolph39410
Pickens3849
Conecuh38210
Sumter36218
Lawrence3441
Macon33213
Washington32712
Crenshaw3133
Choctaw27912
Cherokee2637
Geneva2550
Henry2523
Greene25011
Clay2495
Lamar2172
Fayette1985
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