Dallas tree service tried to hide its employment of unauthorized immigrants

Kevin Krause Follow @KevinRKrause Email kkrause@dallasnews.com
Published: August 13, 2015 1:18 pm

Apollos Philip

A Dallas tree service with a history of hiring unauthorized immigrants continued to employ them using fake staffing companies even after being raided by immigration authorities, court records show.

Apollos Davis Philip, who ran Big Bird Tree Service, has agreed to plead guilty in federal court to engaging in a pattern or practice of unlawfully employing aliens unauthorized to work in the United States.

Philip, 59, had some of his employees set up shell staffing companies from which he funneled paychecks to unauthorized immigrants in an attempt to hide his hiring practices, according to federal court records.

Philip is scheduled to enter a plea next week before a U.S. magistrate in Dallas. He faces up to six months in federal prison, records show.

Someone who answered the phone at the company’s offices on Thursday hung up on a reporter.

Philip created the scheme a few weeks after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents went to Big Bird Tree Service in November 2011 and told the unauthorized immigrants not to return to work.

During the raid, ICE arrested the company’s owner, Manasseh Philip, who was himself not authorized to be in the U.S.

Manasseh Philip, a citizen of Sri Lanka who is Apollos’ brother, was convicted in 1988 of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14 and sentenced to five years in prison. In 1999, he was deported to Sri Lanka after his appeals failed.

Manasseh Philip, 60, re-entered the U.S. sometime after and remained here until his 2011 arrest. He is serving a five-year prison sentence.

After the 2011 arrest, Apollos Philip and his sister, Irene Eads, ran and helped manage the tree service business, located on East Wheatland Road.

Eads has already pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, court records show. Big Bird Tree Service also is a defendant in the case.

Big Bird Tree Service persuaded or coerced employees with legal status in the U.S. to form the “bogus staffing companies” that were used to issue paychecks.

The first one, Romero Staffing LLC, lasted until the employee who formed it refused to continue about three months later. Then came Morris Labour Service followed by Albert’s Labor Service.

The scheme ended in September 2013 when ICE agents arrived at Big Bird Tree Service with a search warrant. But agents were not able to contact the employees.

“The entrance gate where ICE officials were waiting was not opened until the aliens had been alerted and given time to run away,” court records said.

Big Bird Tree Service has received city of Dallas mulching contracts, including one as recently as last year. In 2008, the business was awarded a $2.2 million mulching contract, city records show.