Janitorial Service Officials Charged in Sweep of Illegal Immigrants
Friday, February 23, 2007
Three top executives of a janitorial service used by such national restaurant chains as Hard Rock Cafe and ESPN Zone face charges of tax evasion, fraud and harboring illegal immigrants, U.S. officials announced yesterday, after overnight raids in 18 states netted about 200 undocumented workers.
Authorities unsealed a 23-count indictment returned Feb. 15 by a grand jury in Grand Rapids, Mich., against co-owners Richard M. Rosenbaum, 60, and Edward Scott Cunningham, 43, and controller Christina A. Flocken, 59, of Rosenbaum-Cunningham International Inc., of Palm Beach, Fla.
The trio allegedly failed to pay $18.6 million in federal employment taxes on $54 million in custodial and grounds-keeping contracts between 2001 and 2005 at the chains, which also included House of Blues, Planet Hollywood, Dave and Busters, Yard House and China Grill, U.S. officials said. The restaurants' parent companies were not charged.
Raids targeted 63 locations in 17 states and the District of Columbia, from California to Florida and New York, including ESPN Zone restaurants in Washington and Baltimore, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said. Illegal workers face administrative charges and deportation.
The case marked the latest wrinkle in a renewed campaign by the Bush administration to crack down on employers as Congress debates an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. ICE arrested 716 individuals on criminal charges last year, up from a few dozen in recent years.
The government lost a criminal case against Tyson Foods employees in 2003, ended a criminal investigation against Wal-Mart in 2005 after negotiating an $11 million civil fine, and charged workers but not managers in raids against meatpacker Swift & Co. last year, but it continued to target smaller companies with criminal probes. Subjects included a California fence-building company, a Kentucky home-building firm, a Texas-based transportation pallet firm, and a temporary labor service in Ohio.
Commercial cleaning services are a $100 billion U.S. industry employing nearly 1 million workers across the private sector. According to prosecutors, RCI supervisors and about 155 on-site managers allegedly hired hundreds of workers since 1997 without job applications, W-4 tax withholding or I-9 employment eligibility forms, or W-2 wage and tax statements. The company recruited through word of mouth and advertisements at job fairs, festivals and in Spanish-language newspapers. In one case, an employee allegedly bought 20 phony green cards.
The trio allegedly paid workers in cash and set up shell companies, with such names as Ricurt Inc., Monker and Sunchaser Service Corp., to hide assets from the Internal Revenue Service, the indictment said. Dividing nearly $7 million, defendants allegedly purchased "racehorses, fancy boats and lavish homes" in Florida and California, said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers. Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank said Rosenbaum was arrested in central Florida. Cunningham and Flocken are expected to surrender to officials soon, an ICE spokesman said.
John Vandevelde and Jeffrey Rutherford, attorneys for Cunningham, released a statement noting that the use of undocumented workers "pervades many industries throughout the United States," and added that his client was cooperating fully and "expects to resolve this matter to everyone's satisfaction."
Vincent J. Marella and Evan Jenness, attorneys for Rosenbaum and Flocken, respectively, did not respond to requests for comment.
The investigation began 20 months ago after tips by a cleaning crew at the Grand Traverse Resort in Michigan. Earlier, a former RCI supervisor, two ex-employees and a state of Michigan employee pleaded guilty to related charges.