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A southwest Idaho county filed a racketeering lawsuit against agricultural companies accused of hiring illegal immigrants — an attempt to recoup money the county says it has spent on the workers. The lawsuit by Canyon County, Idaho, commissioners alleges four agricultural companies and a nonprofit have taken part in an “illegal immigrant hiring scheme,” and that the county has paid the cost of medical care, jails and schools. The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday claims the companies violated the federal Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations Act, which allows winning plaintiffs to receive triple damages. It’s the first time a government entity has used RICO to demand damages from businesses for the costs of allegedly illegal employees, say legal experts, including Notre Dame law Professor G. Robert Blakey, one of the authors of the law. “Illegal immigration is not a victimless crime. It has cost Canyon County millions of dollars, and we expect to recover it,” said Howard Foster, an attorney representing the county. The lawsuit was spearheaded by Commissioner Robert Vasquez, who previously tried to get Canyon County declared a disaster area due to illegal immigration and tried to charge Mexico $2 million for what he said had been spent on medical services and jail for illegal immigrants. Both those efforts failed. A grandson of Mexican immigrants, Vasquez now is campaigning for U.S. Congress. The lawsuit names as defendants Syngenta Seeds, Sorrento Lactalis, Swift Beef Co. and Harris Moran Seed Co. and the nonprofit Idaho Migrant Council. The four companies, which together employ hundreds of people in Canyon County, are accused of knowingly hiring hundreds of illegal immigrants, partly through agreements with worker recruiting companies. Jim Herlihy, a spokesman for Swift & Co., which runs a meat processing plant in Canyon County, said his company strictly follows federal hiring guidelines. David Chambers, the vice president and general counsel for Sorrento Lactalis, said any allegations of a conspiracy to hire illegal immigrants are untrue. “I can categorically deny that anything remotely like that is happening at my company,” Chambers said. John Schoenecker, a spokesman for Harris Moran Seed, and Anne Burt with Syngenta Seeds said they could not comment. The Idaho Migrant Council is accused of harboring illegal immigrants by joining with the Caldwell Housing Authority to rent them housing. Albert Pacheco, the council’s executive director, said the allegations were untrue. The three Canyon County commissioners voted unanimously May 20 to hire Foster to represent the county and bring the lawsuit. Canyon County is largely agricultural and many of its Latino residents work in that industry. About 19 percent of the county’s 131,000 residents identify themselves as Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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