Howard Industries pleads guilty on immigration raid

HATTIESBURG, MS. (WDAM) - Howard industries in Laurel has been fined $2.5 million after pleading guilty to a single count of conspiracy in connection with an immigration raid that netted 600 illegal workers in August of 2008.

Attorneys representing Howard Industries appeared before Federal Judge Keith Starrett Thursday afternoon in Hattiesburg and entered the plea. Company representatives immediately paid the $2.5 million fine.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Howard Industries encouraged and induced illegal aliens to reside in the U.S. even though the company knew or recklessly disregarded the law. The conspiracy also involved Howard Industries concealing, harboring, and shielding from detection illegal aliens.

Prosecutors said Howard Industries would routinely hire illegal aliens and in the process would accept false identity documents and false social security cards. Plus, the company, through its human resources department, would submit cards to Social Security for verification.  When those numbers couldn't be verified, the company would still hire and allow the illegal workers to remain on the job.

Former human resources manager Humberto Gonzales is scheduled to be sentenced next week after pleading guilty to conspiracy in 2009. In the plea bargain agreement with federal prosecutors, Gonzales admitted he encouraged illegals to live in Mississippi, helped them get jobs, and helped hide them.

In court Thursday, Howard representatives pointed the finger at Gonzales saying safeguards were in place at including card checks and fingerprints, but they claim Gonzales ignored Social Security requests about numbers not being legitimate. Gonzales could be sentenced to five years in prison and fined $250,000.

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