A North Carolina company that helped build the new Beech-Nut plant in Montgomery County agreed to pay more than $800,000 for using undocumented workers on the project, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
C.P. Buckner Steel Erection of Graham, North Carolina, agreed to pay $825,000, as well as maintain other actions to ensure they don’t employ undocumented workers in the future. If the company complies with all the requirements, the U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to not pursue corporate criminal charges, federal officials said in a news release.
The action followed an investigation that began in January 2009 after investigators received a tip that Buckner transported undocumented workers from North Carolina to the Beech-Nut project in the Florida Business Park on Route 5S. Beech-Nut itself was not accused of any wrongdoing in the case, federal officials said.
Homeland Security Investigations ultimately arrested nine Buckner employees between Jan. 22 and Feb. 18, 2009, including two supervisors. Six were later released from custody, though the charges against them remained, and Buckner continued to employ them, officials said. Buckner also moved the employees from a hotel one mile from the project to another 30 miles away.
Then, on Feb. 28, 2009, fed-
eral officials said, an unannounced visit by auditors from the state Department of Labor and state police Bureau of Criminal Investigations resulted in all but one Buckner employee fleeing.
That one employee was also in the United States illegally, according to officials.
The employees ultimately returned to North Carolina and continued working for Buckner, despite not being legally in the country, officials said.
The company also had received “repeated notices over multiple years” from the Social Security Administration over “hundreds of irregularities” in Social Security numbers, officials said.
The settlement agreement remains in effect for the next two years.
Buckner agreed to cooperate fully and is required to use the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify screening program for new hires, verify Social Security numbers and maintain an employee hot line for reports of any suspected violations of the law.
Buckner issued a statement Friday saying it has “a history of compliance and cooperation with U.S. government agencies.” The company put in place voluntary steps to comply when told of the inquiry, the statement said.
“Buckner has cooperated with the [U.S. Attorney’s office] throughout the investigation and has agreed to work with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to further educate the construction and steel erection industry regarding the hiring of unauthorized workers,” the statement reads.
Beech-Nut’s hiring of Buckner in 2008 drew protests from local unions, who called for local workers to be used to construct the $124.8 million plant.
Beech-Nut responded to those concerns then by noting multiple local companies were also awarded contracts.