[Update on August 14, 2023: The four principals in the case were given jail terms from a little under two years to a little under five years. There is also a fine of $3.9 million and an unstated amount of back wages.]
A guilty plea in a multi-million-dollar scandal involving more than 100 illegal alien workers was entered in a federal court in Virginia earlier this week by one of the key players in the operation. It was one of three bits of foreign worker news in recent days.
George William Evans, in a plea agreement, pled guilty to two of 33 federal charges against him and his colleagues; he is the co-owner of a large commercial laundry, Magnolia Cleaning Services, which has been charged with recruiting, transporting, and exploiting large numbers of illegal-alien laundry workers from Central America. His residence is in Midlothian, a Richmond suburb, and the firm has facilities in Williamsburg, Va.
There was so much illegal activity charged that it takes 46 pages to list it all in the PACER files; another measure of the scope of the operation is that, according to Law360, Evans agreed to a $3.9 million forfeiture, a massive sum in one of these cases.
The Law360 article does not spell out how the $3.9 million will be distributed, but court documents suggest it will be paid to the government in fines. The charges filed, in addition to two involving money laundering, include: encouraging and inducing illegal entry, harboring undocumented non-citizens, transporting them, and benefitting from forced labor. Anna Patricia Aragon Landaverde, Jeffrey Dean Vaughan, and a phony document provider (FNU LNU) were also charged.
The indictment is lengthy both because the feds recorded every violation in sight (including individual checks written for many of the illegal workers) and because the conspiracy was such a large and comprehensive operation.
The laundry, according to charging documents, recruited workers in Central America, arranged for their illegal entry into the States, secured phony Social Security numbers and other illicit documents for them, and then worked them long hours at low pay. It charged the workers for their rent in substandard quarters, and for their food. Some of these quarters had no heating or air conditioning; the laundry facility had no shower and no kitchen. If the workers complained, they were threatened with deportation.
Among the exploited workers was a 13-year-old girl who worked long hours in the plant when she was not in school. (That the employers let her attend school is interesting.) Going to school was fine with the employers, but not making friends at school. She was beaten with a belt for this behavior by one of Evans’ colleagues.
In at least one instance in the indictment, one of the Central Americans was charged $17,000 for getting him into this country and this debt was held over him, making him work even longer hours.
While I applaud the $3.9 million in fines, if actually collected, I worry about two other aspects of the case.
The first is that the plea agreement allowed Evans to plead guilty to just two of the 33 charges, and these were for non-immigration violations; they were for defrauding the government and for “engaging in a monetary transaction in criminally derived property”.
I would prefer that he had pled to some of the immigration counts. I worry that the two white-collar charges, and the big payment of fines suggests that there will be no jail time. Sentencing is scheduled for June 20.
My second concern is the lack of newspaper coverage of the guilty plea. I checked with the director of a Virginia organization that distributes a newsletter on governmental and political coverage in the state’s newspapers, the Virginia Public Access Project; he said he had seen nothing about the case except for one relatively short item on a TV news show.
In other news. Meanwhile, the Labor Department, refreshingly, tossed an H-2B employer out of that program (it is called debarment) for a thumping five years for failing to pay some $200,000 in overtime payments to 14 of its workers. This happened to Denver’s Grandview Landscaping. In this case the workers were to be paid about $14,000 each for the missed overtime.
And we were reminded, yet again, of the evils of the State Department’s summer work/travel program that were covered thoroughly years ago by my then-colleague Jerry Kammer. Doing the reminding was the Salt Lake Tribune, which reported that 12 Argentinian youths on J-1 visas in the summer program each paid $1,000 in rent monthly to live together in a 1,000 square-foot apartment with minimal furniture and mattresses on the floor. So the gouging landlord got $12,000 a month for his apartment in Park City, Utah.
The State Department, unlike the Labor Department, has no field staff in the States to monitor its foreign worker programs.