Federal judge finds Champaign roofer guilty of harboring illegal immigrants

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 10:04am |
Mary Schenk

Photo by: John Dixon/The News-Gazette

The exterior of the Gire Roofing office in shown in 2014 at 309 W. Hensley Road, C. On Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, a federal judge convicted Gire Roofing owner Edwin Gire of harboring people living in the country illegally in the building and said it was subject to forfeiture to the government.

SPRINGFIELD — A federal judge has convicted the owner of a Champaign-based roofing business of visa fraud and harboring people who were living in the U.S. illegally.

The guilty verdicts against Edwin Gire, 46, and Grayson Enterprises returned Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough mean that Gire will have to forfeit the building at 309 W. Hensley Road, C, where he harbored the people living here illegally.

He also faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of the seven felony counts.

Myerscough set sentencing for June 4 in Springfield, almost two years from the time Gire was indicted and four years since government agents raided that Hensley Road building in search of evidence to support the findings that Myerscough ultimately made.

Gire waived his right to a jury trial on the charges and opted to have Myerscough hear his case. That was done over six days in November.

Prior to his bench trial, Gire and Grayson Enterprises, which was doing business as Gire Roofing, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of unlawful employment of aliens, admitting Gire knowingly employed three Mexican nationals between 2008 and 2014. He faces six months in prison and a maximum fine of $3,000 for each unauthorized person employed.

News-Gazette reporter Mary Schenk joins Brian to talk about Edwin Gire's conviction.

In an 11-page ruling filed late Wednesday afternoon, Myerscough found Gire guilty of four counts of visa fraud. Grayson Enterprises was convicted of two of those counts.

Both defendants were convicted of three counts of harboring illegal aliens.

The visa-fraud counts alleged that between 2011 and 2014, Gire submitted four petitions to the Department of Homeland Security saying that he needed more workers than he could find in the U.S., and attached as evidence contracts for roofing jobs that were fake.

That allowed about 90 workers from Mexico, the Philippines and Peru to be improperly granted permission to work in the U.S., most of whom never reported to Gire to work.

"Testimony from numerous witnesses at trial established that the contracts detailed roofing jobs that the supposed customers of Gire Construction or Grayson Enterprises never agreed to and contained forged signatures of the alleged customers or their representatives," the ruling said.

"Gire submitted these fraudulent contracts in an attempt to justify the number of H-2B visa workers Gire Construction or Grayson Enterprises was requesting. ... Neither Gire Construction nor Grayson Enterprises would have received agency approval for any of the H-2B visa workers they requested if the contracts were known to be fraudulent."

The H-2B program allows U.S. employers who meet specific requirements to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary, non-agricultural jobs. The visas are typically issued to employers experiencing seasonal needs that can't be filled with U.S. labor.

Regarding the harboring counts, Myerscough found the government proved that the defendants "knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that the person named in the indictment was not lawfully in the United States."

Gire's attorney, Andrew Devooght of Chicago, argued that because Gire made no effort to conceal that three people were living illegally in the Hensley Road building owned by Grayson Enterprises, he did not harbor them.

"However, the Seventh Circuit has pointed out that harboring is distinct from concealment, as a person can harbor an illegal alien merely by providing the alien with housing for the purpose of making an employment opportunity with the person more attractive," the judge said.

She noted that the living arrangement was made to "make the aliens' employment as roofers for Grayson Enterprises attractive despite the fact that Grayson Enterprises was paying them less than the applicable prevailing wage."

"And because the three aliens lived in the building owned by Grayson Enterprises, they did not have to interact with landlords who might demand documentation regarding the aliens' immigration status or live on the streets, actions that would have made it more likely that the aliens would have interacted with law enforcement," she said.

Myerscough said Kimberly Young, the named owner of Grayson Enterprises who is also Gire's girlfriend and the mother of his child, was aware of the people living illegally in the Hensley Road building but did not tell Gire to make them leave.

"The aliens paid rent to live in the building owned by Grayson Enterprises, and, in part by charging the aliens rent, Grayson Enterprises was able to employ a workforce that made less than the applicable prevailing wage, thereby allowing the company to increase its profits and decrease its employment tax burdens," the judge said.

The government showing that the Hensley Road building was being used to harbor the people living here illegally makes it subject to forfeiture to the government, Myerscough said.

Gire was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller of the Urbana division of the Central District. Working with him was Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Weir.

The convictions are the latest business-related misfortunes for the roofer, who has been in business in both Douglas and Champaign counties.

In 2011, Gire Roofing was fined $144,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for failing to provide fall protection for workers at jobs in Decatur, Champaign and Rantoul.

That same year, Gire and his then-wife filed for Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy.