3 On Your Side Investigates: Inside the ICE Raids

3 On Your Side Investigates: Inside the ICE Raids

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While hundreds of undocumented workers face potential charges and deportation following last week’s massive immigration raid, newly-unsealed court documents show a snapshot of the federal government’s case against the four companies also targeted in this investigation.

More than a hundred pages of affidavits shed light on the probable cause agents with the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement needed to obtain their search warrants.

Within those pages, Special Agent Anthony Todd Williams Jr. lays out examples of identity theft, fraud and employers who found ways around federal regulations.

“We get the tips, we investigate it. The investigators, they bring us the evidence, and we make a determination based upon the evidence that we have probable cause to execute, whether that’s administrative search warrants or criminal search warrants, and that’s what happened in this case," said U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst.

ICE and Homeland Security agents talk to workers at the Peco Foods food processing facility in Canton during the raid. (Source: ICE.gov)
ICE and Homeland Security agents talk to workers at the Peco Foods food processing facility in Canton during the raid. (Source: ICE.gov)

Based on the information and subsequent warrants, agents with HSA and ICE raided seven food processing plants, initially detaining 680 workers suspected of being undocumented.

The warrants also allowed for documents and hard drives belonging to those employers to be confiscated and copied.

At Pearl River Foods in Carthage, Williams told a federal judge some workers used other people’s personal information -- even deceased individuals -- to get hired there, though it’s not revealed where they obtained that information.

Williams also said several employees at Koch Foods in Morton and three Peco Foods plants in Bay Springs, Sebastopol and Canton had work ID cards that didn’t match their actual names, and didn’t have legal documents to work or reside in the U.S.

Perhaps the most significant cases involve an A&B Incorporated plant near Pelahatchie and P H Food, Inc. in Morton.

The affidavits state a criminal informant employed at P H Food told ICE agents that higher-level employees not only knew about other employees’ illegal status, but helped them get hired by making sure those employees weren’t checked.

P H Foods, Inc., in Morton faces perhaps more intense federal scrutiny than any other company raided by ICE agents last week. (Source: WLBT)
P H Foods, Inc., in Morton faces perhaps more intense federal scrutiny than any other company raided by ICE agents last week. (Source: WLBT)

The informant detailed a system where, once an undocumented immigrant is hired, another employee in charge of payroll makes sure the paperwork checks out.

The informant said those illegal workers used their real names and made-up Social Security Numbers, which should be flagged once they’re passed through the federal government’s E-Verify database to help determine employment eligibility.

That never happened here, the informant claims, because supervisors for P H Food and A&B -- and their out-of-state payroll companies -- didn’t even try to authenticate them, which is also a violation of Mississippi law.

“In past cases, we’ve seen that those who we prosecuted who claimed to have used the E-Verify system have specifically gone around it," Hurst said. "They would know an individual has a fake ID, they would tell that individual to go find another real ID so they could submit it through E-Verify and that way we could have complete protection.”

The search warrant affidavit for P H Food states twenty-five examples of undocumented immigrants who were never authenticated through the E-Verify system, and asserts that the U.S. government has evidence the company itself violated the terms of the system’s agreement by failing to consistently verify its employees through the database.

The affidavits for criminal and administrative search warrants, filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month, also provide an answer for why government agents set their sights on Mississippi for the raid.

The documents show evidence of hundreds of undocumented workers picked up all over the U.S. since 2002, immigrants who said they worked in Mississippi at some of those companies.

Hurst wouldn’t comment on specifics of the government’s case, even hesitating to talk about the details found in those affidavits or whether employers would face charges in this particular case.

But Hurst, who started with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2006, said he personally has worked cases where they prosecuted employers and owners of companies in Mississippi for these crimes for years.

“We saw Howard Industries, the human resources manager. Here locally in the metro area, we saw Sticks Restaurant and the owner in Birmingham and two managers in this office," Hurst said. "We saw on the coast, Artisan Construction, and the owner and managers down there. We saw Love Irrigation in Ridgeland. We saw China Buffet in Meridian. All those individuals were prosecuted. The owners were prosecuted, and some of them went to jail.”

The search warrants allege six of the seven processing plants raided last week “wilfully and unlawfully” employed people not authorized to work in the U.S.

A 3 On Your Side analysis of those court documents reveal that all five companies could at least face these charges:

  • Intentional hiring of unauthorized aliens, which carries a $3000 fine per undocumented worker and a possible six month prison sentence.
  • Intentional hiring of unauthorized aliens for purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.
  • Intentional false statements on the form used to determine employment eligibility, also known as an I-9. That particular crime is a felony.

Hurst said he believes this particular case will make other companies in Mississippi think twice before breaking federal immigration law.

“We see a trend throughout our district, throughout our state, of employers backing off of hiring illegal aliens, and I think you’ll see a significant trend after this case," Hurst said.

No company or employer has been formally charged at this point.

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