Some things just bear repeating, especially when to do otherwise is to allow misinformation to keep parading around.
That misinformation is lurking in questions a Chronicle editorial asked the other day about the Hugo Diaz case.
Hugo Diaz, an illegal alien, was sentenced last week to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to running various construction businesses with illegal immigrant labor. When he’s released, he’ll be deported.
Diaz amassed millions of dollars in net worth – as evidenced by his Jones Creek mansion that also served as a home-away-from-hacienda for some of the illegal immigrants who worked for him. And while the feds have seized all they could grab, Diaz likely has plenty more cash squirrelled away for his retirement to Mexico.
And, quite rightly, people want to know: How did he get away with it?
The Chronicle asked it this way: “How did he get business licenses, building permits, bank accounts, new vehicles and more?”
I addressed this shortly after Diaz was arrested, mostly because I was hearing from county staffers who were none too happy at the insinuation that they had winked at lawbreaking. Yet here are those arched-eyebrow questions again:
• How did he get business licenses? Columbia County charges an occupation tax, often (incorrectly) called a business license.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, “Diaz had three companies that paid occupation taxes to Columbia County. Those companies started in Richmond County, and moved here about three years ago before local governments had access to a federal verification system. Now in place, that system likely would have caught them, but they were arrested first.”
Diaz had simply lied on the part of the application where he said he was here legally, and the county didn’t have the ability to prove him wrong. By the time they could, Diaz had been arrested. Moot point.
• Building permits? He didn’t get any. Private contractors obtained those permits in their names, and then hired Diaz’s crews.
• Bank accounts, new vehicles? All that takes is money; Diaz had plenty. Neither need citizenship.
So how did he get away with it? Diaz did it the old-fashioned way: He worked hard. He supplied cheap labor to legitimate contractors looking to cut corners. If your house was built in the past half-dozen years or so in Columbia County, chances are good that one of Diaz’s crews worked on it.
Did you ask to see the papers of those laborers before you bought that house? Of course not. Did the contractor? Probably not. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is alive and well in the underground economy.
Of course, when people like Diaz get busted, it makes cheap labor a little harder to come by. It might also make those houses more expensive, for a while.
Like Diaz, we can just fool ourselves: It was a good deal while it lasted.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/