Scheme To Harbor Illegal Aliens Results In Settlements
United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson announced that civil settlements have been reached with five individuals from Rapid City, South Dakota, who submitted false claims to the United States Forest Service (USFS). The scheme involved employing and harboring illegal aliens from 2007 to 2012, a violation of the contracts awarded to remove timber in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The False Claims Act (FCA) imposes liability on persons and companies who knowingly submit false claims to the government or causes another to submit a false claim to the government, or knowingly makes a false record or statement to get a benefit paid by the government. Persons who submit a false claim must pay to the United States a civil penalty of not less than $5,500 and not more than $11,000 for each false claim, plus three times the amount of damages which the government sustained.
Angel Munoz-Escalante and Barbara Munoz, d/b/a Munoz Logging and Construction Company; Rogelio Escalante Sr., d/b/a Escalante Logging and Services; Rogelio Escalante Jr., d/b/a Escalante Logging and Thinning Company; and Raul Munoz, d/b/a R Munoz Thinning, were awarded numerous USFS service contracts to thin unhealthy stands of timber in the Black Hills National Forest for the general purpose of protecting the national forest resources. The USFS service contracts stated, in part, that the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1324a, makes it “unlawful for an employer to hire unauthorized aliens,” instructs contractors to have employees verify eligibility for employment, examine and retain documents used for verifying eligibility, and makes compliance with INA a material condition of the USFS contracts. These individuals submitted contract invoices for payment with certifications which contained material false statements that the work was done in accordance with contract terms. The work was not performed in accordance with contract terms, because they knowingly employed undocumented aliens and submitted false statements.
As a result of criminal investigations conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, Rapid City Police Department, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Custer County’s Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Department of Labor, and other federal and state law enforcement agencies, and the subsequent criminal convictions for the same conduct, the United States was able to reach civil settlements with these individuals for these contract violations under the FCA.
For submitting false claims to the USFS, these individuals have given the United States consent judgments and agreed to make payments over a period of years as follows:
- Rogelio Escalante Sr., a total of $50,000 on or before August 1, 2015
- Angel and Barbara Munoz, a total of $375,000 by November 3, 2017
- Rogelio Escalante Jr., a total of $15,000 by September 2, 2019
- Raul Munoz, a total of $15,000 by September 2, 2019
A civil FCA complaint has been filed against two additional individuals who were also convicted, and have been sentenced for their roles in the conspiracy to harbor aliens and for false claims in connection with the USFS contracts.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office places a high priority on criminal and civil enforcement in cases involving all types of fraud committed against the government. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric Kelderman and Sarah Collins, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Cheryl Schrempp DuPris prosecuted the criminal and civil cases respectively.