A federal judge ordered a tree removal company to pay the largest fine in U.S. history for hiring undocumented immigrants.
U.S. District Judge John R. Padova ordered Asplundh Tree Experts, a tree-trimming company based in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, to pay $95 million in penalties for hiring people who are in the U.S. illegally, according to NJ Advance Media.
Asplundh reportedly hired thousands of undocumented immigrants from 2010 to 2014, and the company's management allegedly turned a blind eye toward supervisors who hired undocumented workers to increase profits. Some supervisors even rehired workers the company had already terminated because they were undocumented.
"This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit," said prosecutors in the case.
"With a motivated workforce, including unauthorized aliens willing to be relocated and respond to weather-related events around the nation, Asplundh had crews which were easily mobilized that enabled them to dominate the market," the prosecutors added.
Padova ordered the company to pay $80 million in forfeiture, in addition to $15 million for civil claims in allegations related to immigration. According to federal prosecutors, the judgement is the largest of its kind in the nation's history, WCAU reports.
Scott Asplundh, the company's chief executive, apologized in a statement.
“We accept responsibility for all the charges as outlined and we apologize to our customers, our associates and all other stakeholders for what has occurred,” said the chief executive, The Morning Call reports. “Consequently, the circumstances and practices of the past, which gave rise to the investigation, have been addressed and eliminated."
Asplundh said in his statement that the company would ensure "the situation does not re-occur."
Larry Gauger, a regional manager for Asplundh, reportedly instructed employees to re-hire undocumented workers who the company already fired by accepting fake forms of identification.
Gauger “knew that the dismissed employees within his region were being re-hired under different and false names and false identity documentation and encouraged his supervisors and general foreman to continue this practice," according to court documents.
He pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in October. Court records say Gauger reportedly told supervisors working under him they had "plausible deniability" about the fraudulent hiring because the social security numbers they illegally obtained would be positive matches in an E-verify database, according to NJ Advance Media.
"Mr. Gauger is a good man," said Gauger's attorney, Arthur Donato Jr., who did not comment on the case, The Morning Call reports. "He has been with the company for a long time, and we’re going to be taking a look at everything and deciding how to proceed."
"Today's judgment sends a strong, clear message to employers who scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants: we will find you and hold you accountable," said Thomas Homan, Immigration and Customs Enforcement acting director. "Violators who manipulate hiring laws are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we will continue to take action to remove this magnet."