Major immigration bust targets Washington farm

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 5:09 PM

DUVALL, Wash. -- It is a business that would seem to be as innocent and natural as you can imagine--an organic farm. Over 20 years it's grown into a big business and now one that is accused of hiring illegal immigrants.

KING 5 News has learned that one of the biggest federal investigations of its kind in the U.S. has led down a country road.

It's centered on a Duvall herb farm where agents determined half of the 150 crop workers were illegal immigrants.

Ward Roney Jr. is a life long farmer and 20 years ago he founded HerbCo, one of Washington's original organic herb farms.

Even at age 81, he tended fields with many of the workers who lost their jobs when federal investigators came calling.

"They were like family to us. We loved them and they cared for us," said Roney Jr.

Roney Jr. is not charged, or as far as we know, suspected of any crime. But the same can't be said of his long-time business partner, Edward "Ted" Andrews.

The former Nordstrom executive built HerbCo into something of an herbal empire with farms in several states. It's products like herbs are sold in grocery stores here and across the Western United States.

Since last year, investigators have been looking at the company's hiring practices across the nation. Charging documents filed in the Federal Court in Seattle say Andrews and two other top officers in the company, "harbored, concealed and shielded from detection" one illegal immigrant.

While sources would not talk specific numbers, they say the company was knowingly and willfully hiring illegals at its farms.

Residents in this farm community say HerbCo's been a good neighbor, including the company's CEO who's now charged with harboring illegal immigrants.

Andrews fortunes have risen along with HerbCo's. He lives at one of the areas most exclusive addressees, The Highlands in Shoreline. A businessman who seems equally at home on the farm.

"He has done nothing to hurt anyone, if anything he's helped people. I don't believe that he deserves jail time," said neighbor Lora Wicks.

Roney Jr. disputes the company knew the immigration status of those workers status. All the federal prosecutors will say is that more more information will come to light in the future.

Andrews, the CEO and his lawyers, refused to comment to KING 5 Thursday.

source: Major immigration bust targets Washington farm | Seattle