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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chicken processor fined for illegal workers

By Dan Horn
Enquirer Media (Cincinatti, OH)
February 12, 2010

Koch Foods Co. paid a $536,000 fine this week for violations discovered during an immigration raid almost three years ago at the company's Fairfield poultry processing plant.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials described the fine as a significant penalty that is justified by the myriad problems the agency found when it examined the company's hiring policies. Police and federal agents arrested 161 illegal immigrants during the August 2007 raid.

"This is one of the more significant fines for a case like this," said ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls. "It speaks to the level of violations we found."

The violations included a failure to complete required paperwork and to do a thorough check of job applicants' identification documents.

Koch officials said they cooperated with federal investigators and revamped their hiring practices to include an electronic system known as E-Verify, which checks prospective employees against a federal immigration database.

"We have been very proactive to make sure we are state-of-the-art in how we do hiring," said Mark Kaminsky, Koch's chief financial officer. "We feel very good about our policies and procedures. We feel we're cutting edge."

Kaminsky said the company, which employs about 500 people in Fairfield, has added training for managers on how to complete the paperwork required by immigration officials and has set up new procedures to avoid a repeat of the violations uncovered in 2007.

The company also has made changes on the management team that runs the Fairfield facility, although Kaminsky would not discuss how many people, if any, lost their jobs.

"We don't take any of this lightly," Kaminsky said. "We take it very seriously."

Brian Moskowitz, the agent in charge of ICE in Ohio and Michigan, said the crackdown on Koch Foods is part of a broader immigration enforcement effort that targets employers suspected of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

"Employers have a responsibility to hire men and women who are authorized to work in the United States," Moskowitz said in a statement Friday. "Fines are an important component of ensuring their compliance."

Federal prosecutors said last year they would not seek criminal charges against company officials based on the 2007 raid. Walls said Friday that has not changed and criminal charges are not expected.

The morning raid at Koch's plant followed a two-year investigation into the hiring practices of the Chicago-based company. At the time, immigration officials described the company as "an egregious violator" of U.S. immigration laws, which meant the company was suspected of knowingly hiring undocumented workers.

The raid was the largest in Greater Cincinnati in years and was among the largest in the country in 2007.

All of the arrested workers faced deportation proceedings and about 20 also were charged with forgery, tampering with records and identity fraud.