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Firm agrees to historic settlement for immigration violations

  • Story Highlights
  • Pallet and crate company IFCO Systems North America will pay $20.7 million
  • IFCO accused of luring workers to U.S., giving them fake Social Security numbers
  • Justice won't pursue criminal charges if company complies with settlement
  • As many as 6,000 illegal immigrants worked for company from 2003 to 2006
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By Mike M. Ahlers
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A company accused of encouraging hundreds to illegally enter the United States and then hiring them using fake Social Security numbers has agreed to pay the largest settlement ever in a workplace immigration bust, the Department of Justice said Friday.

Relatives of people arrested in IFCO raids gather for a news conference in July 2006.

Relatives of people arrested in IFCO raids gather for a news conference in July 2006.

IFCO Systems North America, a pallet and crate company, will pay a $20.7 million settlement, which includes $18.1 million in fines and $2.6 million for overtime violations, the Department of Justice said.

In early 2006, immigration officials raided 45 IFCO sites, arresting almost 1,200 low-level workers. Federal officials also charged several managers, accusing them of using "as a business model the systematic violation of United States law."

To date, nine IFCO managers and employees have pleaded guilty to criminal conduct, the Justice Department said. Four managers are awaiting trial on felony charges and the investigation is continuing, it said.

The Justice Department said it will not pursue criminal charges against the company if it complies with the terms of the settlement.

"The agreement severely punishes IFCO for its serious immigration and employment violations," acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Baxter said. "But it also allows the corporation to continue its operations, so that its lawful employees and innocent shareholders do not suffer the consequences of a business failure in this economy."

IFCO's violation of the law was flagrant, officials said. More than half of the company's 5,800 workers during 2005 had invalid Social Security numbers, and the company ignored at least 13 letters from the Social Security Administration about questionable Social Security numbers.

IFCO records suggests that as many as 6,000 illegal immigrants worked at company plants from 2003 to 2006, the Justice Department said.

Federal officials said Friday that IFCO "acknowledges and accepts responsibility for the unlawful conduct of its managers and employees." An IFCO official could not be reached for comment.

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