Butte County Company to Pay $1.5 Million Following Investigation Regarding Immigration Violations
Mary’s Gone Crackers Inc. Agrees to Pay $1.5 Million and Establish a Corporate Compliance Program in a Nonprosecution Agreement
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Mary’s Gone Crackers Inc., a natural food company based in Gridley, has agreed to pay $1.5 million and to establish a corporate compliance program under a nonprosecution agreement reached with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California following an investigation into potential criminal violations of federal immigration laws, Acting United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to the agreement, in March 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement audited Mary’s Gone Crackers’ I-9 immigration forms for its employees. Later, in May 2012, ICE notified Mary’s Gone Crackers that 49 of its employees appeared not to be authorized to work in the United States. After one employee provided corrected documentation, Mary’s Gone Crackers informed ICE that the other 48 had all resigned or been terminated. However, within less than a month, Mary’s Gone Crackers rehired at least 13 employees that it claimed had been terminated or resigned, all of them under new names. One of those 13, an operations supervisor, never stopped working for Mary’s Gone Crackers at all, but instead continued to work under a new assumed name and received payment as an independent contractor, rather than through the company’s ordinary payroll. Several other Mary’s Gone Crackers employees knew that the operations supervisor was not eligible to work in the United States. When a search warrant was executed at the company’s Gridley facility in January 2013 by federal law enforcement, at least 12 of the 13 rehired individuals were still working at Mary’s Gone Crackers.
"Protecting the integrity of the nation's immigration system is a top priority for HSI," said Ryan L. Spradlin, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. "Our agents are determined to hold those who choose to defraud the system accountable in order to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation’s lawful workforce."
As further described in the agreement, during the course of the I-9 audit and its rehiring of individuals, Mary’s Gone Crackers had at times consulted with an outside counsel from the Chico area. After the search warrant, Mary’s Gone Crackers cooperated with the government’s investigation and took remedial measures, including terminating employees, stopping use of the outside counsel involved, and taking various steps to ensure compliance with immigration laws and I-9 regulations, including use of E-Verify and the Social Security Verification Service. The company also established an anonymous tip line so that employees can report any potential I-9 issues. The nonprosecution agreement requires Mary’s Gone Crackers to establish a corporate compliance program covering its I-9 procedures and its use of the E‑Verify system, and requires timely and complete disclosure of violations of immigration laws or regulations within 24 hours of discovery. It also requires Mary’s Gone Crackers to provide corporate compliance reporting to the United States Attorney’s Office for two years. No federal criminal charges will be brought against Mary’s Gone Crackers for the investigated conduct if the company complies with the terms of the nonprosecution agreement. The agreement is only between the government and the company Mary’s Gone Crackers, and does not pertain to specific individuals.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The government was represented by Assistant United States Attorney Christopher S. Hales.