Willow Grove-based tree removal company Asplundh must pay $95 million to the federal government after admitting to employing undocumented immigrants, prosecutors announced Thursday.
The penalty is the largest ever in an immigration-related case, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. As part of Asplundh’s guilty plea, the company must pay $80 million in criminal forfeiture to the government as well as an additional $15 million to satisfy civil claims for failure to comply with immigration law.
“Today marks the end of a lengthy investigation by ICE Homeland Security Investigations into hiring violations committed by the highest levels of Asplundh’s organization,” said ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan in a Department of Justice statement issued Thursday.
“Today’s judgment sends a strong, clear message to employers who scheme to hire and retain a workforce of illegal immigrants: we will find you and hold you accountable. Violators who manipulate hiring laws are a pull factor for illegal immigration, and we will continue to take action to remove this magnet.”
Asplundh, whose orange bucket trucks and clearing crews removing branches from power lines are a common sight on the road, addressed the case in a company-issued statement, but did not mention the $95 million fine directly.
“We accept responsibility for the charges as outlined, and we apologize to our customers, associates and all other stakeholders for what has occurred,” CEO Scott Asplundh said in the statement. “Consequently, the circumstances and practices of the past, which have given rise to the investigation, have been addressed and eliminated going forward.”
Federal prosecutors claimed that by way of a decentralized hiring system, Asplundh’s upper management remained “willfully blind” to lower-level managers’ intentional employment of undocumented immigrants nationwide from 2010 to 2014.
Hiring was done by word-of-mouth referrals, avoiding any paper application system. Prosecutors said that this system enabled supervisors and foremen to assemble a workforce at a moment’s notice.
“This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit,” prosecutors said in Thursday’s statement. “With a motivated work force, including unauthorized aliens willing to be relocated and respond to weather-related events around the nation, Asplundh had crews which were easily mobilized that enabled them to dominate the market. Asplundh provided all the incentives to managers to skirt immigration law.”
The record-setting payout is a feather in the cap for ICE’s Homan, who leads the organization under a presidential administration that espouses hardline immigration policies.
But even before President Donald Trump’s rise to power, Homan established himself as the mastermind of a record crackdown on illegal immigration. As an April 2016 Washington Post article said, “Thomas Homan deports people. And he’s really good at it.”