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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 20, 2011

Guilderland Police to get $180K from IFCO settlement

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Police Department recently received $61,320 as part of a $21 million settlement from a 2006 case involving illegal immigrant workers.

A large display check for that amount is posted at police headquarters; the department expects to receive nearly three times that amount over the next few years.

“Right now, we’re looking at putting the money into some radio upgrades that we need very badly, and that are quite expensive,” said Carol Lawlor, Guilderland Police chief. Lawlor told The Enterprise that the department — which has an annual budget of about $4.5 million — applies for and receives funds from forfeiture cases “all the time” but that this is the largest amount it has ever received.

The settlement stems from an arrest in April 2006, when five men from the pallet service company IFCO Systems, which has a location in the Northeastern Industrial Park off of Route 146, were collared for hiring illegal employees.

The 14-month investigation of IFCO, a German-based company with its American headquarters in Texas, originated in Guilderland, after the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, received a tip that workers in the industrial park were observed ripping up their W-2 tax forms. More than 1,187 illegal workers were apprehended at more than 40 IFCO plants throughout 26 states.

The Guilderland Police Department worked with ICE, the Internal Revenue Service, the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration, the United States Department of Labor, and the New York State Police. The state and local law enforcement agencies will receive a portion of the $20,697,317.51 settlement IFCO agreed to pay in December 2008.

“The settlement amount was based on the percentage of profit from 2003 to 2006 — it was basically based on the profit generated by unlawful workers,” Tina Sciocchetti, one of the assistant United States attorneys prosecuting the case, told The Enterprise.

“You have to apply to receive part of the settlement by giving information on how much time was spent on the investigation, and how many man-hours,” Lawlor said. The $61,320 is just a portion of the money the police department will receive; Lawlor said more checks are expected over the next couple of years, for a total of close to $180,000.

Two of the five local men arrested in 2006 pleaded guilty to felonies and three pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge.

Robert Belvin, general manager of the Albany plant, and James Rice, market development manager, both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain, and conspiracy to posses five or more identification documents with the intent to use them unlawfully, both felonies. Dario Salzano, Scott Dodge, and Craig Losurdo, assistant general managers, all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully employ illegal aliens, a misdemeanor.

The undocumented immigrants, who had been living in houses on Western Avenue in Guilderland and Route 146 in Guilderland when they worked for IFCO, were handled administratively by immigration authorities, according to Sciocchetti.

“Everything was based on individual circumstances; they may have been removed from the United States, they may have been offered a voluntary return to their country, or they may have been given a written warning,” Sciocchetti said. The Enterprise interviewed some of the illegal workers from the plant in Guilderland in 2006.

“We want to get back working, that’s why we’re here,” a 23- year-old man from Honduras said at the time. “If they send me home, they send me home. I’d rather be home than detained.” The men said they came to America from different parts of South America and Central America, including Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua, and were being paid 30 cents for each wooden pallet they rebuilt.

IFCO Systems, as a company, took a big hit immediately after the arrests were made, because it lost a large portion of its work force, said Sciocchetti.

IFCO Systems corporate headquarters in Houston did not return a call seeking comment.

“It spent months re-building a lawful work force,” she said. As part of the settlement, IFCO must now use the Department of Homeland Security’s “E-Verify” screening program for new hires, and also must verify Social Security numbers of all employees through the Social Security Administration. A hotline has been set up to receive reports of any suspected violation of law at the company.

The agreement is valid until 2012, and, if the company complies, the United States Attorney’s Office won’t prosecute IFCO for any of the criminal charges related to the conduct of its employees, according to a release from the United States Department of Justice.

Although the company did suffer after the arrests were made, Sciocchetti said, it has turned a large profit and thrived since 2006.

“They re-built, and did so rather quickly, and have thrived since then,” she said.

IFCO Systems is still a tenant in the Northeastern Industrial Park, and, according to David Ahl, from the Galesi Group, the company is in good standing.

“As far as I know, they are perfectly law-abiding,” said Ahl.

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