Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A Pennsylvania-based tree trimming company was ordered to pay a record $95 million fine for hiring thousands of immigrants who did not have permission to work in the United States.
Federal prosecutors said Alplundh Tree Experts, which employs 30,000 people in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, hired thousands of workers who were in the country illegally or did not have work visas. Furthermore, the privately owned company's hiring structure enabled top management to remain "willfully ignorant" of their hiring practices.
Homeland Security investigators began auditing Asplundh's hiring practices in 2009. Eventually, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers determined thousands of the company's workers were hired improperly and handed the company a list of names for those who were working illegally.
Asplundh fired hundreds of workers and scores more quit before they could be fired, and promised ICE it would reform its hiring practices.
Instead of doing so, prosecutors said the company doubled down on the hiring strategy, bringing back many of the workers it let go, provided the individuals were able to secure forged or stolen documents that would enable the company to appear as though it was following the law.
Prosecutors said the company specifically sought to hire undocumented workers because their salaries were lower than legal workers, and the general lack of family ties in the country made them more mobile. That workforce flexibility afforded Asplundh a competitive advantage because, unlike competitors tied to specific geographic regions, Asplundh was able to go after government contracts wherever severe weather had struck across the country, bringing in crews largely filled with undocumented workers at a moment's notice.
"This decentralized model tacitly perpetuated fraudulent hiring practices that, in turn, maximized productivity and profit," prosecutors said in a statement. "With a motivated workforce, 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."
In response to Friday's judgment, Asplundh released a statement apologizing for its actions. The company said executives "accept responsibility for the charges as outlined, and we apologize to our customers, associates and all other stakeholders for what has occurred."