- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

Two California fence company executives who pleaded guilty to hiring illegal aliens face prison terms at sentencing in March in what could establish a new benchmark in the government’s claimed crackdown on illegal immigration.

Mel Kay, founder, chairman and president of Golden State Fence Co., and Michael McLaughlin, manager of the company’s Oceanside, Calif., office, pleaded guilty this month in U.S. District Court in San Diego to felony charges of hiring the illegals and agreed to pay fines of $200,000 and $100,000, respectively.

The company, which built more than a mile of a 15-foot-high fence near the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego to protect against illegal immigration, agreed separately to pay $5 million on a misdemeanor count — one of the largest ever imposed on an employer for immigration violations.

U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz set sentencing for March 28.

Prison time in such cases is rare. Although plea agreements reached in the case say Kay, 64, and McLaughlin, 42, could face up to five years in prison, U.S. Attorney Carol Lam has recommend terms ranging from six months to a year.

Michael Cutler, a retired U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) senior agent, said it is “very rare for people to be prosecuted criminally” for hiring illegal aliens, and the penalties usually involve a plea agreement and a fine but no prison time.

He expects both men to receive lenient sentences.

“These men could and should be made examples,” said Mr. Cutler, who headed major INS investigations into drug trafficking for more than two decades. “Their company built fences to better secure the border then had the brass to stick their finger in the government’s eye.”

The guilty pleas followed a multiyear investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“This settlement and guilty plea clearly show that employers who knowingly and blatantly hire illegal workers will pay dearly for such transgressions,” said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE.

Golden State was notified in writing that at least 15 of its employees at its Oceanside office were unauthorized workers after a visit by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents in July 1999.

At that time, Golden State executives said they were terminating the employees; but in September 2004, ICE officials found that 49 Golden State employees at the Oceanside office were illegal aliens. Three of the employees were among those listed in the 1999 notice.

In June and September 2005, ICE agents observed the unauthorized aliens listed in the 1999 and 2004 notices working at the Oceanside office. Then in August 2005, ICE agents inspected Golden State’s Riverside, Calif., office, where they again found at least three of the employees listed in the 1999 notice.

In November 2005, ICE agents seized evidence in Oceanside and Riverside showing the two offices engaged in a pattern of hiring illegal aliens. From September 2004 to September 2005, agents said, Golden State hired more than 10 unauthorized workers listed in the 1999 or 2004 notices.

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