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Published:October 4th, 2007 09:56 EST
landscape owner pleads guilty to employing illegal aliens

landscape owner pleads guilty to employing illegal aliens

By SOP newswire

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The owner of an Oldham County landscaping company pleaded guilty here Monday to employing illegal aliens at his business. This plea resulted from a criminal worksite enforcement investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Dean A. Hedges, 49, pleaded guilty Oct. 1 in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Kentucky before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Whalin to charges he knowingly employed illegal aliens at his landscaping company in Crestwood, Ky.

Information filed in federal court Monday charges Hedges and his companies - Hedges Landscape Specialists Inc., Exterior Designs Inc., and Performance Irrigation LLC, all located at 7606 Highway 329 in Crestwood - with employing illegal aliens. The charges claim that between Sept. 25, 2006, and Sept. 24, 2007, Hedges Landscape Specialists knowingly employed at least 12 illegal aliens and that Dean Hedges engaged in a pattern or practice of knowingly hiring illegal aliens.

A former employee informed ICE agents that it was common knowledge that Dean Hedges employed illegal aliens to work for Exterior Designs Inc. and Performance Irrigation, and that those illegal aliens were considered a subclass of employees. For example, the illegal alien employees were paid a flat rate regardless of the number of hours worked during the week.

According to court documents, ICE agents were contacted by former employees of the business and alerted that illegal aliens were being employed by Hedges. One employee told ICE agents that during the time he/she worked for Hedges, Hedges knowingly and openly employed illegal aliens to work for his company. The former employee estimated that Hedges seasonally employed between 10 to 15 illegal aliens during the spring months through late June and early July, and that the business picked up again during the fall planting season. The former employee said that, at the direction of Hedges, he/she was ordered to pay the illegal aliens on about 20 to 25 occasions in cash "under the table" for work they performed as employees of Hedges Landscape Specialists.

The same former employee stated that during his/her employment with Dean Hedges, he/she had several discussions with Hedges about completing Employment Eligibility I-9 Forms on the company's employees. Hedges indicated he was not worried and "would just pay a fine" if he were ever caught by authorities. The former employee indicated that some I-9 forms were completed for documented workers, but not for illegal alien employees.

As part of the investigation, ICE agents executed a federal search warrant Sept. 24 at Hedges Landscape Specialists. During the execution of the search warrant, ICE agents arrested 12 illegal alien workers from Mexico who have all been placed in deportation proceedings.

The maximum potential penalties for the corporation is a $250,000 fine, and the maximum potential penalties for Hedges are a $24,000 fine and six months imprisonment or up to five years probation. Hedges has also agreed to forfeit $147,000 seized from his corporate bank accounts.

"ICE is aggressively pursuing employers who egregiously violate the law," said Elissa A. Brown, special agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "All employers in all industries and locations must comply with our nation's laws. ICE, and our law enforcement partners, will continue to enforce immigration laws from all angles, including: criminal charges, asset seizures, administrative arrests and deportations." Brown heads a six-state area, which includes: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Madison T. Sewell, Western District of Kentucky, prosecuted this case.

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