Labor & Employment Law Daily Asplundh Tree Experts to pay $95M for willful blindness to scheme employing illegal aliens
Friday, October 6, 2017

Asplundh Tree Experts to pay $95M for willful blindness to scheme employing illegal aliens

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania-based Asplundh Tree Experts, Co., has pleaded guilty to unlawfully employing aliens as part of a scheme in which the highest levels of Asplundh management remained willfully blind, while lower-level managers hired and rehired employees they knew to be ineligible to work in the United States, according to the Department of Justice. The company was sentenced to pay a forfeiture money judgment of $80,000,000 and abide by an Administrative Compliance Agreement. Under a separate Civil Settlement Agreement, Asplundh will pay an additional $15,000,000 to satisfy civil claims arising out of its failure to comply with immigration law, bringing the total to $95,000,000.

The recovery and civil payment together amount to the largest payment ever levied in an immigration case.

Hiring model permitted willful blindness. From 2010 until December 2014, Asplundh, one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. and an industry leader in tree trimming and brush clearance for power and gas lines, hired and rehired employees in many regions in the U.S. while accepting identification documents it knew to be false and fraudulent, court documents show. A six-year Homeland Securities Investigation (HIS) audit and investigation found that the company decentralized its hiring so that sponsors (the highest levels of management) could remain willfully blind while supervisors and general foremen hired ineligible workers, including unauthorized aliens, in the field. The company hired by word of mouth referrals rather than through a systematic application process. Thus, supervisors and general foremen were able to hire a work force that was readily available and at their disposal.

Productivity and profit maximized. According to the DOJ, this decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that maximized productivity and profit. With a motivated work force, including unauthorized aliens who were willing to relocate and respond to weather-related events around the country, Asplundh had crews that were easily mobilized, permitting the company to dominate the market. The DOJ said Asplundh provided incentives to managers to circumvent immigration law.

“Our partners at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia are to be commended for their work on this lengthy audit and investigation, spanning 6 years,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Louis D. Lappen. “Today’s settlement and the compliance agreement make it clear that companies must play by the rules and treat everyone fairly.”

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