Landscaper may be fined $50,400 by INS Firm didn't complete forms, official says

September 09, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

A Pennsylvania-based landscaping firm faces the possibility of a $50,400 fine from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, based mainly on what INS says was sloppy paperwork at the firm's Columbia branch.

An INS spokesman said yesterday the Columbia office of the Brickman Group failed to document the backgrounds of about 50 workers and paid one worker it knew was an illegal immigrant.

"We mean business with this stuff," John Shallman, a spokesman for INS' Baltimore office, said yesterday. "This is a big fine for a company."

INS told Brickman yesterday of its "intention to fine" action, based on a two-year investigation. INS had fined the company $5,000 in 1988, according to INS.

Brickman officials will have a chance to contest the INS findings and possibly have the fine reduced.

Around Columbia, Brickman's work crews and beige trucks are a common sight. Many of the workers are Hispanic, which often has aroused suspicions among Columbia residents.

Those suspicions are unfair, said William P. Cook, a Columbia attorney who represents Brickman and served as the INS general counsel from 1989 to 1991.

"Our client has a very diligent and aggressive program to ensure that it only hires people who are authorized to work in the U.S.," Cook said. "We look forward to the opportunity to work with the immigration service to address their concerns."

The INS investigation started with a visit to a Brickman job site in Annapolis in August 1995. INS agents interviewed workers and eventually determined that Brickman officials knew one of the workers was an illegal immigrant -- yet continued to pay him.

That worker was detained and released on bond. His case is pending, Shallman said.

The INS also determined that Brickman didn't adequately fill out employment eligibility forms for about 50 workers, Shallman said. He said the forms were either incomplete or late.

"Mostly, [the] violations are in the paperwork arena," he said.

The spokesman said INS targets specific businesses based on tips it receives.

"There are certain industries that hire illegal aliens and knowingly hire them. And landscaping is one of them," Shallman said.

He identified other business as construction, agriculture, food service and hotels and motels.

Cook, the Brickman attorney, said that given the employment landscape in the U.S. for these types of industries, the determination of only one known illegal immigrant after a two-year investigation is a relatively low ratio.

"Obviously, zero is best, but one is not too shabby," said Cook, adding that he was not conceding the INS allegations were valid.

Thus far this year, the INS Baltimore office has detained 600 to 650 illegal immigrants and illegal immigrants charged with breaking U.S. criminal laws. The INS last year issued an intention to fine of $93,600 to Cafe Normandie in Annapolis for knowingly hiring four illegal immigrants and failing to keep proper documentation of workers, according to INS.

Pub Date: 9/09/97

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