- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Officials in Virginia have dismissed complaints against eight of at least 16 local contractors whom the Herndon Minutemen accused of violating tax and business-licensing laws when hiring day laborers.

Officials with the Manassas Park Department of Buildings, Planning and Zoning and the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) said an investigation of the eight contractors who hired the laborers at the formal day-laborer center in Herndon was unfounded. The complaints were filed by Herndon Minutemen founder George Taplin.

“While there may have, indeed, been cases of unlicensed activity — and that is still unclear — Mr. Taplin’s allegations did not end up resulting in a complaining witness who was willing to participate, and the cases were closed,” said Mary Broz, a spokeswoman for the DPOR.

Mr. Taplin could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The DPOR immediately dismissed one of seven complaints because the contractor was licensed and worked outside Virginia, Miss Broz said. DPOR closed the other cases after homeowners who hired the contractors did not respond or declined to file complaints against the contractors.

Mr. Taplin’s group wants to stem illegal immigration by cracking down on employers who hire day laborers, most of whom are illegal aliens.

In October, the group began videotaping and photographing the laborers at the formal hiring center and following contractors to work sites. The group submitted its findings and the names of the homeowners who hired the contractors to eight federal, state and local tax and business-licensing agencies in December.

The DPOR cannot forward a case to local prosecutors unless an unlicensed contractor performs work worth more than $1,000 and a homeowner complains about being victimized. Homeowners do not face penalties for hiring unlicensed contractors.

“Most commonwealth attorneys are, perhaps, understandably not inclined to pursue an unlicensed prosecution without a willing complainant,” Miss Broz said. “You’d have to start talking about subpoenas and arm-twisting.”

Licensing inspectors in Manassas Park visited a contractor accused of running a business out of his home. The contractor was in the process of obtaining a state license, a city business license and a home occupation permit, officials said. As a result, the case against the contractor was dismissed, officials said.

Officials with the Virginia Department of Taxation and the Fairfax County Department of Tax Administration said it is not clear whether they received information from Mr. Taplin or whether that information resulted in an investigation.

Loudoun County Commissioner of the Revenue Robert S. Wertz Jr. said his staff requested more information from Mr. Taplin. Initial data were “insufficient to determine if those individuals had a definite place of business in Loudoun County and were subject to a tax here,” he said.

Information from Herndon tax and licensing officials was not available yesterday, and the Virginia Employment Commission could not be reached for comment. The Internal Revenue Service has declined to comment on any investigations.

Several homeowners and contractors called the Minutemen’s practices an invasion of privacy.

“I’m legally here, and I have everything in order,” said a contractor who asked not to be identified. “I don’t feel comfortable being followed and people doing things behind my back. Why didn’t they contact me? I will give them all the answers.”

“I feel like, in some ways, I’ve been violated because they’re following people that I’ve hired and they’re sitting outside my home and taking down my information,” said Mary Ann Betz, a homeowner in Leesburg.

Mr. Wertz questioned the legality of the Minutemen’s practices.

“I think that the incorrect assumption is often made that a person may not be paying taxes when, in fact, they are,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way for a person observing someone in a parking lot to determine what their definite place of business was.”

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