Authorities Detain 45 in Immigration Raid at Painting Company

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Authorities raided the offices of an Annapolis painting company yesterday and detained 45 suspected illegal immigrants, who officials say were hired and housed by the company in private homes.

The raids, executed simultaneously at the offices of Annapolis Painting Services and 10 private homes that authorities said were owned by the company, were conducted by a force of 75 federal immigration agents and 50 Anne Arundel County police officers.

The immigrants are being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Baltimore while their status is reviewed, said Scot Rittenberg, an assistant special agent in charge in Baltimore.

No charges have been filed yet against the owner of the painting company, Robert Bontempo Jr., because the investigation has not been completed, Rittenberg said. But Police Chief James Teare Sr. said Bontempo could face federal felony charges.

The 45 immigrants detained -- 35 men and 10 women -- came from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Nigeria, federal investigators said.

There were five additional workers whose cases also have been entered into the illegal immigration removal process, but ICE agents did not take them into custody for humanitarian reasons. Some had children, one was dependent on medication and another was pregnant.

Bontempo did not return calls to his office and home. According to his company's Web site, he started painting homes in the 1970s to pay his way through college.

The Web site calls his company one of the largest painting contractors in the region and boasts of its work at several local institutions: the Maryland State House, the Annapolis Visitors and Convention Bureau, the U.S. Naval Academy and Anne Arundel Community College.

The company has more than 100 employees, county police said. The 10 sites raided yesterday morning housed large groups of immigrants living in single-family homes owned by the company, authorities said. ICE agents also conducted interviews with workers at five other sites.

At a news conference yesterday across the street from the company's offices, County Executive John R. Leopold (R) touted the raid as the most significant operation against illegal immigration in his administration.

He has come out strongly against illegal immigration in the county and made a series of policy changes in the past year to deter it.

"It's unfair to those companies operating legally to be undercut by those who hire illegal immigrants," Leopold said. "This sends a clear message that it's not going to be tolerated in Anne Arundel County."

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