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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 22, 2011

Four former IFCO managers each fined $3K after pleading guilty to hiring illegal immigrants

GUILDERLAND — Four former managers of a German company with ties to Guilderland were fined on Thursday for hiring illegal immigrants here.

Abelino Chicas and James Rice, of Houston, Texas, and Tomas Soto Castillo and William Hoskins, of Cincinnati, Ohio, were each fined $3,000 by United States District Court Judge Lawrence E. Khan.

Five IFCO senior managers charged in the case were sentenced in Texas earlier this year, and also received fines.

“The judge down there decided on fines only, and the judge up here didn’t think it would be fair to punish the managers up here more harshly,” according to Tina Sciocchetti, one of the assistant United States attorneys prosecuting the case. The prosecuters were not seeking jail time for the defendants, she said.

Fifteen of the 16 managers implicated in the case have been charged, and the last one faces sentencing in January, Sciocchetti told The Enterprise this week. All 16 were immediately fired from their positions with IFCO, and cooperated entirely with the United States government during the investigation, she said.

IFCO Systems North America is based in Texas but has a location in the Northeastern Industrial Park, off of Route 146, building wooden pallets.

The four men sentenced Thursday had all pleaded guilty to the felony charges in 2009, following a 14-month investigation, which originated in Guilderland and involved the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE; the Internal Revenue Service; the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration; the United States Department of Labor; the New York State Police; and the Guilderland Police Department.

ICE received a tip in 2006 that workers of IFCO were observed tearing up their W-2 tax forms in the parking lot of the industrial park, and 1,187 illegal immigrants were subsequently apprehended at more than 40 IFCO plants in 26 states.

The undocumented immigrants who had been working at the Guilderland branch of the company had been living in two houses in Guilderland — one on Western Avenue and the other on in Route 146 in Guilderland Center. Immigration authorities removed them from the country, offered them a voluntary return to their country, or gave them a written warning.

The Enterprise interviewed some of the workers in 2006, and found that most came to the United States from different parts of South America and Central America, and were being paid 30 cents for each wooden pallet they rebuilt.

As part of the 2009 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.

IFCO also agreed to pay $20,697,317.51 — a percentage of the company’s profits from 2003 to 2006, when unlawful workers were employed — to the government. It was the largest worksite enforcement settlement in United States history. A portion of that money will go to the state and local law enforcement agencies that helped investigate the case.

The Guilderland Police Department expects to receive a total of nearly $180,000 for its part in the case; it has already received $61,320, which will go into radio upgrades.

According to Scioccheti, IFCO spent months re-building a lawful work force, and has thrived since then.

David Ahl, from the Galesi Group, which manages the Northeastern Industrial Park, told The Enterprise earlier this year that IFCO has been in good standing, and a law-abiding tenant, since 2006.

—By Anne Hayden

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