Saturday, June 10, 2000

Company fined in illegal-workers case

By John Nolan
The Associated Press

        A company was fined $47,650 Friday for obstructing an immigration investigation into illegal workers at a suburban packaging plant.

        Representatives of Career Horizons Inc., which did business under the name AccuStaff in supplying workers, agreed to pay the fine by June 23.

        U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith could have fined the company up to $500,000, but said she imposed the lower fine based on a probation officer's recommendation.

        The fine ends an investigation that began in 1997 when the Immigration and Naturalization Service said it found 129 illegal workers at the plant in West Chester. The agency at the time was investigating Cincinnati-area factories thought to be employing illegal workers.

        Federal investigators said AccuStaff provided the Chesapeake Display & Packaging Co. with Mexican and Guatemalan workers who didn't have permits to work in the United States and altered documents to cover it up. There was no evidence Chesapeake was involved in the wrongdoing, investigators said.

        Career Horizons pleaded guilty March 2 to obstructing a federal investigation by altering employment eligibility verification forms that the INS had demanded.

        Judge Beckwith questioned federal investigators Friday about why they failed to identify whoever ordered AccuStaff's clerical workers to alter the documents.

        “It seems to me the individual who took these actions should be prosecuted and should be before this court,” Judge Beckwith said.

        Agents were unable to identify that person because the company went through ownership changes and no one identified the culprit, said Ralph Kohnen, an assistant U.S. attorney.

        Career Horizons is now only a legal entity to resolve the criminal case, said its lawyer, Glenn Whitaker. The company's workers now were not there when the wrongdoing occurred, he said.

        Mr. Whitaker conceded to the judge that AccuStaff's clerical staff was inadequately trained.

        “People didn't understand what they were doing,” Mr. Whitaker said. “The fact that there was a great deal of ignorance to go around is no excuse.”

        Randstad, N.A., a Dutch-owned employment staffing company with a U.S. office in Atlanta, bought the assets of what was AccuStaff, which had been based in Jacksonville, Fla., lawyers said.


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