Wednesday, March 7, 2007

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents continue to interview hundreds of employees of a Massachusetts company whose owner and managers were arrested this week on charges of hiring illegal aliens.

The interviews are aimed at determining the immigration status of workers at Michael Bianco Inc. (MBI), a New Bedford, Mass., company that specializes in the manufacture of handbags and other leather goods and has held Defense Department contracts worth more than $90 million.

More than 500 employees are scheduled to be interviewed as ICE continues its efforts to crack down on employers who hire illegal aliens.

“Unlawful employment is a powerful magnet driving illegal immigration,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE. “Egregious hiring practices, widespread use of fraudulent documents and blatant disregard for the rule of law made this case a priority for ICE.”

Criminal complaints in the case accused MBI owner Francesco Insolia, 50; payroll manager Ana Figueroa, 40; plant manager Dilia Costa, 55; and office manager Gloria Melo, 41, of conspiring to encourage or induce illegal aliens to reside in the U.S. and conspiring to hire illegal aliens.

Luis Torres, 45, of New Bedford, also was charged in a separate complaint of providing phony identification papers to workers at the MBI factory.

The complaint said Mr. Insolia maintained a work force of which the majority were illegal aliens and that he intentionally sought out illegal aliens because “they were more desperate to find employment, and are thus more likely to endure severe workplace conditions he has imposed.”

It described some of the workplace conditions as docking pay by 15 minutes for every minute an employee is late; fining employees $20 for spending more than two minutes in the restroom; providing one roll of toilet paper per restroom stall per day; fining employees $20 for leaving the work area before the break bell sounds; and fining employees $20 for talking while working.

ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi said MBI workers identified during the interviews as being in the United States unlawfully will be charged administratively and placed in removal proceedings.

According to affidavits in the case, MBI held Defense Department contracts worth $10 million between 2001 and 2003 to manufacture products for the U.S. military, and received another defense contract in 2004 worth $82 million. As a result of those contracts, MBI increased its work force from 85 in 2003 to more than 500 today.

The affidavits said that although MBI required prospective employees to produce proof of their identity and their eligibility to work, the company was aware that many employees had obtained fraudulent Alien Registration Cards, commonly known as “green cards,” and phony Social Security cards. It also said MBI management instructed prospective employees on how to obtain fraudulent documents.

According to the affidavits, the undercover ICE agent told MBI officials that she entered the United States illegally from Mexico “without papers” and she was told how to purchase a fraudulent Social Security card.

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