- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - An executive of the parent company of a Lexington County farming operation turned over a $1 million check to a federal judge to pay a fine for hiring as many as 350 workers in the United States illegally.

Media outlets report HW Group, LLC admitted to the wrongdoing Thursday in court. HW Group is the land holding entity of Walter P. Rawl & Sons, a 91-year-old farming operation that grows vegetables, including greens, corn, onions and squash.

The farm gave $20,000 a week over six years to a woman who would pay people in the county illegally to work at the farm. The scheme was discovered when a Lexington bank reported the woman making large cash deposits, prosecutors said.

The farm also agreed to spend four years on probation with its hiring monitored. The company will use the federal worker verification program E-Verify, even though by law it doesn’t have to.

The lawyer for HW Group said the company takes responsibility for its actions and appreciates the government’s help finding legal workers.

“To say it’s difficult to get workers is an understatement,” attorney Debbie Barbier said. “And that’s why the company is committed to working with the government.”

The woman who hired the workers, 35-year-old Sary Mejia, pleaded guilty to being part of a conspiracy to employ the illegal workers. Mejia was sentenced to probation because she helped federal authorities investigate the scheme.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the $1 million fine was the largest penalty paid in South Carolina by a farm for hiring workers in this country illegally.

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The previous version of this story has been corrected to show that a woman had done the hiring, not a man.

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