Business

Manager of poultry plant is indicted

A top manager at a House of Raeford Farms poultry plant has been indicted as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged immigration violations.

Elaine Crump, human resources director at the company's Greenville, S.C., chicken processing plant, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 20 felony counts charging that she instructed employees to use fraudulent employment eligibility forms.

Crump was arrested Wednesday and released after posting a $25,000 bond. She could not be reached for comment. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count.

House of Raeford officials said they're reviewing the indictment. “The company has complied with all requests for information and will continue to cooperate fully with State and Federal authorities,” a statement said.

In a February series on workplace safety in the poultry industry, the Observer reported that some House of Raeford managers knowingly employed undocumented workers, according to five current and former supervisors and human resource administrators.

The former supervisors have said the plant prefers undocumented workers because they are less likely to question working conditions for fear of losing their jobs or being deported.

House of Raeford has said it doesn't knowingly hire undocumented workers and regularly asks outside counsel to audit company records and hiring practices. “We take all necessary efforts to comply with applicable law, including immigration laws,” the company wrote in a recent statement.

With eight processing plants in the Southeast and about 6,000 employees, N.C.-based House of Raeford is one of the nation's top chicken and turkey producers. In the early 1990s, when another company owned the Greenville plant, most workers were African Americans. Now, most are Latino.

In its series, the Observer spoke with current and former workers from House of Raeford's plants in Raeford, Greenville and West Columbia, S.C. Of 52 Latinos who spoke to the Observer about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally.

Immigration officials, spurred by the Observer series, recently questioned two former House of Raeford supervisors about how immigrant workers were hired and whether company managers knew some of those workers were in the country illegally.

One former supervisor, Enrique Pagan, said federal agents specifically asked him about Crump and whether “she knew about the workers' status.”

Another former supervisor interviewed by immigration officials told the Observer that Crump knew workers were undocumented.

The indictment mentions 20 people who applied for jobs from December 2006 to May 2007.

Authorities allege Crump instructed human resource employees to use previously signed employment verification documents for new hires. Crump knew that the company official who had signed the verification papers could not have witnessed whether immigrant job applicants provided the required documentation, the indictment states. That's because the company official was no longer working at the plant.

Federal immigration law requires little of companies when checking applicants' IDs. Employers don't have to verify workers' immigration status or check that their IDs are valid. Instead, companies must accept applicants' documents if they “reasonably appear to be genuine.”

Another former Greenville human resources employee, Caitlyn Davis, said she was told not to examine actual IDs when hiring, but instead to copy the IDs, then review the black-and-white images. She said some Latino applicants provided discolored Permanent Resident Cards, but such flaws did not show up in the black-and-white copies.

Last month, federal agents arrested at least seven Greenville plant supervisors, all of whom were immigrants. Federal officials said the supervisors had falsified their information on employment records kept at the plant. They're seeking to arrest additional supervisors on similar charges.

Kevin McDonald, first assistant U.S. attorney for South Carolina, declined to discuss Crump's indictment, but said the investigation is continuing.

As U.S. employers rely more on illegal immigrants and critics call for reform, immigration officials are increasingly targeting employers with fines and arrests when they knowingly violate immigration law.

A top manager at a House of Raeford Farms poultry plant has been indicted as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged immigration violations.

Elaine Crump, human resources director at the company's Greenville, S.C., chicken processing plant, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 20 felony counts charging that she instructed employees to use fraudulent employment eligibility forms.

Crump was arrested Wednesday and released after posting a $25,000 bond. She could not be reached for comment. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count.

House of Raeford officials said they're reviewing the indictment. “The company has complied with all requests for information and will continue to cooperate fully with State and Federal authorities,” a statement said.

In a February series on workplace safety in the poultry industry, the Observer reported that some House of Raeford managers knowingly employed undocumented workers, according to five current and former supervisors and human resource administrators.

The former supervisors have said the plant prefers undocumented workers because they are less likely to question working conditions for fear of losing their jobs or being deported.

House of Raeford has said it doesn't knowingly hire undocumented workers and regularly asks outside counsel to audit company records and hiring practices. “We take all necessary efforts to comply with applicable law, including immigration laws,” the company wrote in a recent statement.

With eight processing plants in the Southeast and about 6,000 employees, N.C.-based House of Raeford is one of the nation's top chicken and turkey producers. In the early 1990s, when another company owned the Greenville plant, most workers were African Americans. Now, most are Latino.

In its series, the Observer spoke with current and former workers from House of Raeford's plants in Raeford, Greenville and West Columbia, S.C. Of 52 Latinos who spoke to the Observer about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally.

Immigration officials, spurred by the Observer series, recently questioned two former House of Raeford supervisors about how immigrant workers were hired and whether company managers knew some of those workers were in the country illegally.

One former supervisor, Enrique Pagan, said federal agents specifically asked him about Crump and whether “she knew about the workers' status.”

Another former supervisor interviewed by immigration officials told the Observer that Crump knew workers were undocumented.

The indictment mentions 20 people who applied for jobs from December 2006 to May 2007.

Authorities allege Crump instructed human resource employees to use previously signed employment verification documents for new hires. Crump knew that the company official who had signed the verification papers could not have witnessed whether immigrant job applicants provided the required documentation, the indictment states. That's because the company official was no longer working at the plant.

Federal immigration law requires little of companies when checking applicants' IDs. Employers don't have to verify workers' immigration status or check that their IDs are valid. Instead, companies must accept applicants' documents if they “reasonably appear to be genuine.”

Another former Greenville human resources employee, Caitlyn Davis, said she was told not to examine actual IDs when hiring, but instead to copy the IDs, then review the black-and-white images. She said some Latino applicants provided discolored Permanent Resident Cards, but such flaws did not show up in the black-and-white copies.

Last month, federal agents arrested at least seven Greenville plant supervisors, all of whom were immigrants. Federal officials said the supervisors had falsified their information on employment records kept at the plant. They're seeking to arrest additional supervisors on similar charges.

Kevin McDonald, first assistant U.S. attorney for South Carolina, declined to discuss Crump's indictment, but said the investigation is continuing.

As U.S. employers rely more on illegal immigrants and critics call for reform, immigration officials are increasingly targeting employers with fines and arrests when they knowingly violate immigration law.

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