- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Six South Dakota residents, five of whom are from the same family, have been sentenced for their roles in a five-year conspiracy to harbor people living in the country illegally so that the immigrants could perform contract work for the U.S. Forest Service, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said the immigrants worked for Munoz Logging and Construction Company, Black Hills Thinning Company, Escalante Logging Company, Escalante Logging and Thinning Company, and Pine Forest Logging and Thinning, which all regularly submitted bids that were significantly lower than competitors.

“Many times their bids are hundreds of thousands of dollars less than the competition,” Johnson said in the original indictment. “By employing undocumented aliens who are not paid fair wages, benefits, and overtime as prescribed by law and as outlined in the contract, they are able to secure profits even when submitting what are much lower bids.”

Angel Munoz-Escalante, 60, owner and operator of Munoz Logging and Construction Company, was sentenced to one year in prison for false statements and ordered to pay more than $500,000 in restitution and forfeit more than $260,000 in vehicles, equipment and cash.

Prosecutors said Munoz-Escalante intentionally submitted about 50 contract certifications for payment to the U.S. Forest Service that contained materially false statements. The work performed on the contracts was not done in accordance with the contract terms because Munoz-Escalante employed workers living in the country illegally and failed to pay the prevailing wage and benefit rates. He is scheduled to begin his prison term on May 26.

Munoz-Escalante’s wife, 55-year-old Barbara Munoz, was sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service for failing to report the crimes. Johnson said Munoz was also an owner and operator of the company.

Aurelio Munoz-Escalante, 51, owner and operator of Black Hills Thinning Company, was sentenced to three months in prison for false statements, and Rogelio Escalante, 57, owner and operator of Escalante Logging Company and Escalante Logging and Thinning Company, was sentenced to six months in prison for false statements. Prosecutors said the two submitted contract certifications for payment to the U.S. Forest Service that contained false statements because the work was not done in accordance with the contract terms.

Attorneys for the four did not immediately return telephone messages left by The Associated Press on Thursday.

Two other men were each fined $2,500 and ordered to forfeit money and equipment for violating employment laws.

Prosecutors said 31-year-old Miguel Soto, who is not related to the family, was fined for knowingly employing workers living in the country illegally while running his own logging crew for Black Hills Thinning Company. Pascual Munoz, 55, owner and operator of Pine Forest Logging and Thinning, was fined for hiring workers living in the country illegally, not paying insurance or overtime and not providing safety equipment, all in violation of his U.S. Forest Service contracts.

Attorneys for Soto and Munoz said Thursday they did not wish to comment on the sentences.

Johnson said the convictions are a result of a criminal investigative operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. The crimes occurred between January 2008 and May 2013, and the sentences were handed down last week.

The agency was assisted by the U.S. Forest Service, the Rapid City Police Department, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, the Custer County’s Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Department of Labor.

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