OMAHA, Neb. - The owner of a sprinkler company was sentenced here Wednesday to 30 months in federal prison for knowingly employing illegal aliens for commercial and financial gain. This sentence resulted from a joint investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
David E. Wortman, 50, of Grand Island, Neb., pleaded guilty in October 2007 to harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage and financial gain, and to engaging in a series of financial transactions totaling $437,632, which were structured in such a way as to evade currency transaction reporting requirements. Wortman, the owner of Cloudburst Underground Sprinkler Systems, was sentenced Dec. 10 by U.S. District Judge Warren K. Urbom, District of Nebraska, to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $200,903 in restitution and forfeit $236,729 to the government.
ICE agents initiated a worksite enforcement investigation in May 2007 into Cloudburst, a Grand Island business which installs sprinkler systems and performs other lawn maintenance and snow removal services. Wortman admitted hiring at least 26 illegal aliens between October 2002 and September 2007 without requesting any identification or proof that they were eligible to lawfully work in the U.S.
Wortman further admitted cashing customer checks written to Cloudburst in such a way as to avoid federal cash transaction reporting requirements which pertain to all financial transactions involving at least $10,000 cash. On 45 separate and consecutive occasions between September 2005 and May 2007 he cashed groups of customer checks, ranging in number from 22 to 108 checks, in amounts totaling more than $9,000 and less than $10,000. These 45 structured financial transactions totaled $437,632.
Cloudburst was also under investigation by DOL for failing to pay overtime to employees as required by federal law. Under the terms of the plea agreement, Wortman agreed to pay $200,903 to DOL so that it may reimburse current and former Cloudburst employees for unpaid overtime. Any current or former employee who feels they are entitled to such reimbursement should contact DOL.
"Employers who take advantage of illegal labor to gain a competitive advantage for their own profit will be aggressively prosecuted," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in St. Paul, Minn. "Regardless of whether a company has 50 employees or 50,000 employees, ICE will enforce the law against employers who tolerate or perpetuate a shadow economy."
Since it was established in 2003, ICE has dramatically enhanced its efforts to combat the unlawful employment of illegal aliens in the United States. During fiscal year 2008, ICE made 5,173 administrative immigration arrests at worksites nationally. In addition, 1,101 criminal arrests were made in connection with worksite investigations.
To help employers build a legal workforce, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security established an initiative called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE. IMAGE is designed to build cooperative relationships between the government and businesses, strengthen hiring practices, and reduce the unlawful employment of illegal aliens. The initiative also seeks to gain greater industry compliance and corporate due diligence through enhanced training and education of employers. ICE strongly encourages employers to review IMAGE program materials available at: www.ice.gov
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