Company, managers admit they hired illegal immigrants

By Roxana Hegeman - Associated Press Writer ... _immigran/

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Wichita — A Wichita manufacturing company, its owner and a general manager pleaded guilty Wednesday to knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and agreed to pay a total of $210,000 in fines. The company’s foreman pleaded not guilty.

Bob Eisel Powder Coatings and its owner and president, Bob Eisel, pleaded guilty to a single count of making false written statements to the government after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors in the case. General manager Kenric “Butch” Steinert also pleaded guilty to the same charge.

Company foreman Troy Hook entered a not guilty plea earlier in the day to the same 28-count indictment that had initially faced all the defendants in the case.

Eisel and Steinert acknowledged they intentionally made false statements between 2002 and 2005 to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to the superseding information, the men told authorities that Francisco Javier Avila-Garcia, also known as “Poncho,” presented employment documents that were genuine when in fact they knew the documents were fraudulent.

“There is a message here for law-abiding employers,” U.S. Atty. Eric Melgren said in a news release. “Knowingly assisting illegal aliens to appear qualified for employment in this country is a crime.”

Melgren said the company singled itself out for criminal prosecution by deliberately trying to get around federal laws requiring workers to verify their right to work in this country.

“Here in the interior of the United States, we’re focusing on employers who systematically violate the laws against hiring illegal aliens,” Melgren said. “Everyone in Kansas should be aware this enforcement effort is ongoing.”

Neither the defendants nor a defense attorney commented to reporters after the hearing.

Judge Wesley Brown set sentencing for Nov. 13. The single count to which the defendants pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to seek the low end of sentencing guidelines. The company also agreed to pay a $175,000 fine. Eisel agreed to pay a $25,000 fine, while Steinert agreed to a $10,000 fine.

The judge is not bound by the plea agreement when he sentences the men.

The original indictment included eight counts of making false statements to the U.S. government, eight counts of misusing Social Security numbers, eight counts of receiving false documents as evidence of stay or employment, three counts of aggravated identity theft and one count of harboring illegal aliens.

Wood, who has not reached a plea agreement, still faces those charges.

When the company began receiving periodic letters in 2002 from the Social Security Administration notifying it that several of its employees were working under suspicious Social Security numbers, the company told employees they would have to obtain different numbers to continue working, according to the indictment.

The company would then “rehire” the same worker using the new identification, while allowing the worker to retain any benefits such as vacation or sick leave tied to length of service, the indictment charges. Prosecutors have said many of the same employees worked under as many as five or six separate false identities over a period of years.

Authorities have declined to speculate on how many illegal immigrants may have worked at the firm over the years. The original indictment listed eight named illegal immigrants tied to the charges, but it also alleged the company assisted in the purchase of dozens of sets of false identification documents.