Current weather

  • Clear sky
  • 73°
    Clear sky
  • Comment

Illegal labor discussed by builders

Posted: November 13, 2011 - 1:08am  |  Updated: November 13, 2011 - 1:18am

Twitter @JennaNMartin

The recent arrests of an Evans couple on charges of harboring illegal immigrants and money laundering have increased rumblings about illegal labor in the building industry.

On Nov. 4, agencies raided the $1.7 million Evans home owned by Hugo Diaz and his wife, Blanca Miranda de Diaz. Authorities accused the couple of harboring immigrants for commercial advantage and private financial gain beginning in January 2008. They face several years in prison if convicted.

Indicted on a federal charge of illegally entering the United States, a petty charge under U.S. law, were Arturo Mendez Luqueno, Heris Francisco Medina Raimres, Clemente Alvarez Martinez and Rigoberto Loza Marquez.

According to the Better Business Bureau, Diaz owns De la Fuente Construction in Grovetown.

“He was not a builder, as some think,” county Development Services Director Richard Harmon said.

Diaz’s occupational tax form, dating back to 2007, showed that his company was licensed only for framing, Harmon said.

Blanca Diaz’s business, Miranda Construction, did drywall and frame work, he said.

Though local builder Ernie Blackburn had no professional dealings with Diaz, he did express concern with companies that “unlevel” the playing field by hiring an illegal workforce.

“A lot of good, hard-working subcontractors had to fold tent in desperation, basically, for lack of work,” said Blackburn, who has been building in the area for about 25 years. “You can vision it any way you want to, but the pie is only so large.

“When you get people who are not approaching the building industry in a legitimate manner, it hurts tremendously.”

Blackburn was quick to point out that many Hispanic workers are here legally, responsible with a good work ethic.

He also said that the use of illegal workers goes on in many industries and isn’t unique to construction.

Although Blackburn said he believes in a free market system for builders, he said it’s important that the law is enforced.

“I encourage scrutiny of everybody,” he said. “If you’re doing right by the laws, then you have nothing to worry about.”

The federal indictment, unsealed Monday, revealed that Diaz and his wife sheltered the four immigrants and used five SunTrust Bank accounts to spend more than $400,000 that was illegally acquired. The couple is accused of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and he is accused of 10 counts of money laundering.

In addition to the Diazes’ Evans home, authorities seized 10 vehicles, two Augusta homes and several lots in North Augusta.

“Our goal is to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for our lawful workforce,” Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle said in a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office. “In pursuit of this goal, we will continue to hold accountable those employers who deliberately hire and exploit illegal aliens.”

Among the agencies that assisted in the raid of Diaz’s 11,500-square-foot home at 2021 Grace Ave. was U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE special agent Brock Nicholson, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations for Georgia and the Carolinas, said in the release that a top priority of his agency is to make accountable any employers who exploit “illegal alien labor.”

“Companies that break our employment laws for financial gain drive illegal immigration into the United States and deprive our nation’s lawful workforce of employment opportunities,” he said.

It’s the job of those agencies, Harmon said, and not his county department, to decide whether any illegal activity is going on in the industry.

“If we knew it for a fact, we would turn them over,” he said. “That’s not our job to go out and investigate these people.”

When Georgia’s tougher immigration law was passed in May, Harmon said, it resulted in about 30 percent of the Hispanic working population migrating out of the state, including Columbia County.

The Nov. 4 arrests haven’t caused a similar reaction so far, in Harmon’s opinion.

“My understanding is it has not (had) an effect on workers around here,” he said. “This did not scare any off, as the immigration law did.”

  • Comment

Comments (1)

Riverman1

Clay Whittle is Drinking Tequila

Really... if he thinks he is going to be the lone county sheriff in American to get illegal workers under control. It just takes a while for our local builders (and others in various trades) to figure out how to do what Diaz was doing. They complained to Whittle and he made them happy. Monday morning, back to business as usual.

Follow News-Times:

News-Times Video »

CONTACT US

  • Main: 706-868-1222
  • Fax: 706-823-6062
  • Email: cnt@newstimesonline.com
  • 4272 Washington Rd, Suite 3B, Evans, Ga. 30809

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES