A scheme that authorities say involved more than $400,000 earned by an Evans couple through the use of illegal immigrants brought the husband and wife before a federal judge Monday.
Hugo Diaz and Blanca Miranda De Diaz are accused of harboring the immigrants, beginning around January 2008, “for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain,” according to an indictment unsealed Monday.
The couple were arrested Friday night at their $1.7 million home in the 2000 block of Grace Avenue, in the Estates of Jones Creek subdivision, by a swarm of Columbia County deputies and federal investigators serving a search warrant.
Also arrested Friday on a federal charge of entering the country illegally were Arturo Dominquez-Suaste, Reyes Fredrico Lopez-Garcia, Jesus Vazquez-Trejo, Carlos Suarez Ortega, Rigoberto Loza-Marquez, Estaban Jarquin-Esteba, and Heris Francisco Medina-Ramires.
The indictment says the couple sheltered the immigrants, then used five SunTrust Bank accounts to spend the illegally gained money. Those accusations brought the couple one count each of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 10 counts of money laundering against Hugo Diaz.
Authorities did not say whether the illegal immigrants worked for Hugo Diaz, who owns De La Fuente construction in Grovetown, according to the Better Business Bureau.
One transaction listed in the indictment includes a wire transfer to someone in Mexico with the last name Diaz De La Fuente.
Other transactions listed include a $173,380 over-the-counter withdrawal to an Augusta law firm handling a real estate transaction and a $50,000 over-the-counter withdrawal for a pool company.
The indictment includes a forfeiture list of property the U.S. government intends to seize as alleged gains from the conspiracy: the Grace Avenue property, two Augusta homes in the 2900 block of Aylesbury Drive and 100 block of Clark Street, and several lots in the Green Acres subdivision on Metz Drive in North Augusta.
Ten vehicles, including a 2008 Lexus sedan, several pickups and a 15-passenger van, are also on the forfeiture list.
The defendants went before U.S. Magistrate Leon Barfield, who explained through an interpreter their legal rights and the charges they faced.
All the defendants pled not guilty. They will remain in federal custody pending a case resolution. The Diazs face up to 10 years in prison for each count on the indictment.
The only charge against seven of the defendants is entering the United States illegally, which is considered a “petty” charge under U.S. law.
The only options for someone accused of a petty crime are a bench trial before a judge or a guilty plea. The maximum sentence is six months in prison.