The former human resources manager of a Mississippi company was sentenced Thursday to six months house arrest for hiring hundreds of illegal immigrants who were rounded up in the largest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history.
Jose Humberto Gonzalez pleaded guilty in December 2009 to conspiracy and admitted hiring hundreds of people he knew were in the country illegally to work at Howard Industries electrical transformer plant in Laurel. Immigration agents detained more than 600 illegal immigrants during a raid at the plant on Aug. 25, 2008.
Gonzalez is the only company official charged in the case, but the privately owned Howard pleaded guilty to conspiracy Feb. 24. It was fined $2.5 million.
U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett also sentenced Gonzalez to five years probation and fined him $4,000.
Starrett told Gonzalez that he's getting credit for the 15 months he spent waiting to be sentenced because the sentencing was delayed at the request of the prosecution due to its ongoing investigation. He was not jailed while he awaited sentencing.
Starrett said it was because Gonzalez had cooperated that "I think to incarcerate you would be a waste of resources."
In a lengthy statement in court, Gonzalez apologized to his family, friends and the court.
"I knew it was happening," Gonzalez said about the hiring of illegal immigrants at Howard, "but I didn't have the tools and courage to stand up and say `these are illegals.'"
Most of the detained workers were deported, though some were convicted on identity theft charges for using fraudulent documents and providing fake papers to other workers.
Howard Industries has blamed Gonzalez for the situation. One of the company's attorneys has insisted in the past that nobody else knew hundreds of illegal immigrants were working there.
When it pleaded guilty, Howard Industries released a statement saying that illegal workers used fraudulent documents to "circumvent the numerous identification checks" the company used. But prosecutors said the company knowingly employed illegal immigrants, and even hired some of them after the Social Security Administration told the company that their Social Security numbers were not valid. Gonzalez admitted to similar allegations when he pleaded guilty.
Those detained in the raid came from countries including Brazil, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Peru.
Howard Industries makes dozens of products from electrical transformers to medical supplies. The plant that was raided is in Mississippi's Pine Belt region, known for commercial timber growth and chicken processing plants.
In 2002, Mississippi lawmakers approved a $31.5 million, taxpayer-backed incentive plan for the company to expand. The state required the company to create 2,000 new jobs _ 700 by 2007 and another 1,300 by 2012.