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Published:August 6th, 2007 05:27 EST
Owner of Tarrasco Steel arrested in ICE probe for hiring illegal alien workers

Owner of Tarrasco Steel arrested in ICE probe for hiring illegal alien workers

By SOP newswire

JACKSON, Miss. - The owner of the Tarrasco Steel company made his initial appearance in federal court yesterday following his arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on an indictment from the Northern District of Mississippi, as part of an ongoing investigation into charges that he hired illegal alien workers from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to work at critical infrastructure construction sites throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Jose S. Gonzalez, 32, was arrested without incident Thursday morning at his office in Greenville, Mississippi. Gonzalez was involved as a subcontractor providing steel "re-bar" and installation services to major highway bridge construction projects. On March 29, 2007, ICE agents conducted coordinated worksite enforcement actions at the Greenville-Arkansas Highway 82 bridge in Greenville Mississippi; the Huey P. Long bridge in New Orleans, Louisiana; the US 90 bridge in Biloxi, Mississippi; the I-40 seismic retro-fit in Memphis, Tennessee, and the LA-1 bridge in Leeville, LA. These structures are part of our nation`s critical infrastructure and are closely scrutinized when it comes to security matters. The investigation also revealed that the employees did not have proper welding certifications.

During the inquiry, the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, confirmed that the majority of Tarrasco Steel employees were using unauthorized social security numbers for employment. ICE obtained copies of payroll records for the employees for verification of the employees` status in the United States and to substantiate the allegations of criminal misconduct. Gonzalez allegedly falsified and altered information on the I-9 Employee Eligibility Forms.

"There is a serious public safety concern when illegal aliens, who are not authorized to work in the country legally, and who do not possess valid welding certifications, are employed in the construction of bridges in our communities," said Michael A. Holt, special agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New Orleans. "While there is no reason to believe that these individuals had ill intent against our country, they could have, because of their illegal status, been susceptible to blackmail from individuals wanting to hurt Americans. ICE will continue working tirelessly to identify those who are working illegally at our nation`s critical infrastructure sites."

Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) investigations are generally predicated upon the threat to national security posed by unauthorized workers employed in critical infrastructure-related facilities. The goal of CIP investigations is to reduce the vulnerabilities of the nation`s critical infrastructure and key assets to future terrorist attacks. Critical infrastructure has been defined as systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, that are so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, and/or any combination of those matters.

On April 16, 2007, nine illegal aliens employed by Tarrasco Steel were taken before a U.S. Magistrate in Greenville, Mississippi for an initial appearance. The aliens were charged with criminal violations for fraudulent use of immigration documents and social security account numbers. On July 26, 2007, Gonzalez and his company were indicted for unlawful employment of aliens and for making false statements.

A total of 77 illegal aliens were arrested during the ICE-led March 29 operation. Twenty-six of those arrested were Tarrasco Steel employees. The remaining were employees of other construction companies at the sites. In conjunction with the worksite operation, agents served a federal search warrant at the Tarrasco Steel office in Greenville, Mississippi, as well as seizure warrants on Tarrasco`s bank accounts. A total of $457,368.00 has been seized from the accounts of Tarrasco Steel and Jose S. Gonzalez.

Special Agent Holt commended the Harrison County Sheriff`s Office; the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI); the Biloxi Police Department; the Mississippi Highway Patrol; the Mississippi Department of Transportation; the Jefferson Parish Sheriff`s Office; the Jefferson Parish Levee Police; the United States Coast Guard; the Lake Village Police Department; the Chicot County Sheriff`s Department; the U.S. Department of Labor; the Greater Lafourche Harbor Police; the Lafourche Parish Sheriff`s Office; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); the Memphis Police Department, and the Memphis Police Department`s Harbor Patrol for their outstanding cooperation.