CORPORATION, ITS OWNERS AND OPERATORS PLEAD GUILTY
TO HIRING AND HARBORING ILLEGAL ALIENS
Aquila Farms, LLC, and its owners, Johannes Martinus Verhaar (age 46), and Anthonia Marjanne Verhaar (age 48), pleaded guilty today to hiring and harboring illegal aliens, announced United States Attorney Barbara L. McQuade. The guilty pleas were accepted by Judge Thomas L. Ludington in U.S. District Court in Bay City, Michigan.
McQuade was joined in the announcement by Brian M. Moskowitz, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.
“An important component of immigration enforcement is prosecuting those who employ undocumented workers,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said.
"Criminal charges and fines are among the government's most effective tools to ensure employers maintain a legal workforce" said Special Agent in Charge Moskowitz. "The charges and significant fines here represent HSI's firm commitment to holding employers accountable."
According to court records, Aquila Farms, LLC, is a dairy operation based in Bad Axe, Michigan. Beginning in 2000 and continuing through approximately October 2007, Aquila Farms employed 78 different illegal aliens, which constituted almost 75% of its workforce over time. As a regular part of its hiring practices, Aquila Farms failed to conduct the necessary inquiries required by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to determine the eligibility of an individual to work in the United States, as required by law. Of the 78 illegal aliens hired by the Verhaars, some were hired on multiple occasions using different names or social security numbers despite the Verhaars receiving notice from both the Social Security Administration and ICE that some of their employees were not authorized to work in this country. The defendants encouraged or induced the illegal aliens to reside in the United States by providing them with employment and free housing on the farm, away from scrutiny by immigration authorities and the surrounding community.
As part of the agreement reached with the government, the Verhaars pleaded guilty to hiring illegal aliens, a charge that carries a term of imprisonment of up to 6 months and a $3,000 fine per hire. Aquila Farms pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens, a felony which carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years probation. In addition, the Verhaars and Aquila Farms have agreed to pay fines and make payments to the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement totaling $2,734,000. The defendants are currently scheduled to be sentenced in the afternoon of October 5, 2011.
The case was investigated by special agents of Homeland Security Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the assistance of the Michigan State Police and Huron County Sheriff’s Office. It is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s branch office in Bay City, Michigan.