Michelle de Leon Nov. 22, 2016, 7:00pm


SACRAMENTO – A local natural food company in Butte County has reached a non-prosecution agreement with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California following the results of an investigation on the immigration status of approximately 49 undocumented immigrant employees. The deal included the payment of $1.5 million and the creation of a corporate compliance program.

The company, Mary’s Gone Crackers Inc., agreed to those steps under a non-prosecution agreement to avoid penalties over its possible breach of federal immigration laws. With this agreement, the company will no longer be in danger of answering federal criminal charges regardless of the results of the investigation. The investigation is being handled by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. The agreement is limited to the company and the government only. That is, no specific individuals were party to the deal.

The corporate compliance program to be implemented by Mary’s Gone Crackers would cover its I-9 procedures. This would also include the use of an E-Verify system. The company agreed to voluntarily disclose any violation of immigration laws or regulations to the proper authorities within 24 hours of discovery. The U.S. Attorney’s Office must be furnished with a corporate compliance report from the company for two years as well.

Ryan L. Spradlin, a special agent who is responsible for the Homeland Security Investigations office in San Francisco, shared that the agency aims to curb the prevalence of immigration law violations in the country. He further noted that one of its priorities is to strengthen and protect the immigration system in an effort to protect the rights of the legitimate members of the nation’s labor force.

“Protecting the integrity of the nation’s immigration system is a top priority for HSI,” Spradlin said in an official press release. He added, “Our agents are determined to hold those who choose to defraud the system accountable in order to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation’s lawful workforce.”

The issue started in March 2012 when Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials audited the company’s I-9 forms. Upon verification, the officials found that 49 of Mary’s Gone Crackers’ employees were not authorized to work in the United States. They then informed the company of the issue in May 2012. In response to the ICE’s information, the company claimed that 48 of the 49 disputed employees were either terminated or had resigned. Meanwhile, one worker had the information in the document corrected and remained with the company.

In less than a month, Mary’s Gone Crackers was found to have rehired roughly 13 of the employees with defective I-9 forms, according to officials, who said that these workers re-entered the company under new names, presumably to avoid detection. Upon investigation, it was discovered that one of these employees was an operations supervisor who had never even stopped working for the company, but simply used a different assumed name and was classified as an independent contractor, officials said. Several of the workers in the company allegedly were privy to the fact that the supervisor was not eligible to work in the country.

In January 2013, federal law enforcement agents executed a search warrant against the company’s Gridley facility and found that at least 12 of the 13 disputed workers were rehired, according to officials. Amid the investigation, Mary’s Gone Crackers struck a deal with the officials and promised to fulfill the requirements of the non-prosecution agreement.

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