For the past five years, the Lopez Brothers' framing business was very profitable—but apparently not profitable enough. The owners of J&A Framing Company in Durham tried to keep their costs down by hiring cheap labor: undocumented immigrants who earned less than minimum wage and who paid the brothers rent to live in squalid trailers on company property.
Now Jose Alfredo Lopez-Ponce, known as Jose Antonio, and Juan Antonio Lopez-Ponce, known as Antonio Lopez, have been sentenced to prison on charges of "conspiring to harbor illegal aliens" whom they hired to work at the business, the U.S. Department of Justice announced today. Read the press release: Lopez_sentencing.pdf
Both men pled guilty to the federal charges earlier this year.
Antonio Lopez was sentenced to three years in prison, two years of supervised release and was ordered to pay a $45,000 fine.
Jose Antonio received a 26-month prison sentence, two years' supervised release and was fined $25,000.
In addition, the brothers agreed to pay the U.S. government $250,000 as criminal forfeiture.
Six undocumented immigrants who had served six months in federal prison on immigration charges were released yesterday. They were released into the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcements officers after posting immigration bonds in Charlotte. The bond amounts ranged from $5,000—$6,000.
The men—Rafael Garcia-Tiscareno, Jose Guadalupe Rodriguez, Lucio Huerta-Ponce, Luis Humberto Huerta-Ponce, Luis Raul Huerta-Ponce, Juan Manuel Martinez, Rodriguez, Jorge Alberto Ruiz-Ponce—were employees of Durham-based J&A Framers and had been arrested during several workplace raids in the Triangle last November.
A seventh man, Victorino Gutierrez-Licona, is scheduled to appear at a bond hearing next month; he received a seven-month sentence. Two of the former employees were not eligible for an immigration bond.
All of the men pled guilty in March to entering the United States illegally.
In January, eight other employees pled guilty to misdemeanor immigration charges. They served 30 days in jail and were later released on immigration bonds.
“What happened to these men and their families is really sad, and yet another example of how the Obama administration is saying one thing about what their immigration policy is and doing the opposite,” said Marty Rosenbluth, executive director of the N.C. Immigrant Rights Project. “We hear over and over ICE officials saying that they are doing work place raids anymore. These guys were caught up in an investigation targeted at their employer. But instead of offering them the option of just returning voluntarily, or even just putting them into deportation proceedings, Obama’s Justice Department charged them with felony re-entry and they ended up in jail for six months. The only crime they committed was trying to feed their families”
Rosenbluth argued for the former workers' immigration bonds. He said that the next step is to get the men hearings in immigration court where they will try to show that they have the right to stay in the United States.
The men's employers, J&A Framing owners Jose Alfredo Lopez Ponce and Juan Antonio Lopez Ponce, were indicted Dec. 15 on charges including smuggling and harboring and recruiting immigrants to work.
On April 6, the men, who are brothers, pled guilty to illegal alien harboring and conspiracy; they are awaiting sentencing by Chief United States District Court Judge Louise Flanagan in New Bern. Each man could receive a maximum of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and at $500,000 in fines.
Ten undocumented immigrants who had been arrested during several workplace raids in the Triangle last November appeared in federal court in New Bern today, and were sentenced to additional jail time.
Employees of Durham-based J&A Framers—Rafael Garcia-Tiscareno, Jose Guadalupe Rodriguez, Victorino Gutierrez-Licona, Lucio Huerta-Ponce, Luis Humberto Huerta-Ponce, Luis Raul Huerta-Ponce, Juan Manuel Martinze Rodriguez, Jorge Alberto Ruiz-Ponce, Flavio Martinez-Andres and Olegario Ortega-Solis—pleaded guilty of entering the United States illegally. They have been in jail since their arrests four months ago.
Eight of the men face up to an additional two months of jail time. They then will appear in immigration court in Charlotte. However, Gutierrez-Licona was sentenced to an extra month in jail because he had a previous DWI charge. Martinez-Andres was sentenced to an additional eight months because he had been deported before and returned to the U.S.
Dani Bennett, public information officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said criminal sentences take precedence over deportations. “Individuals who have been convicted of crimes in this country must first pay their debt to society, and if they are sentenced by a judge to criminal jail time, they will serve that sentence,” she said.
According to federal sentencing guidelines, the maximum sentence is two years, but they recommend a sentence of up to six months for illegally entering the U.S.
Amanda Mason, who is representing the immigrants, argued that her clients had been in jail long enough. However, Judge Chief District Judge Louise Wood Flanagan, who presided over the hearing, rejected that argument and strongly cautioned the men not to return to the states again adding that the men should take their families back with them to Mexico.
After hearing the workers describe the circumstances that compelled them to cross the border to find work, Flanagan said that while their reasons were sad,they had built an illegal life for themselves and that they needed to learn their lesson.
Almost four months ago, 18 workers were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcements officers in Cary, Chapel Hill and Apex, as part of an ongoing investigation into J&A Framers & Carpentry. Two brothers, Jose Alfredo Lopez Ponce and Juan Antonio Lopez Ponce, operated the business. They were indicted Dec. 15 on charges including smuggling, harboring and recruiting immigrants to work. That case will go to trial next month.
In January, eight of the employees pled guilty to misdemeanor immigration-related charges of illegally entering the U.S.: Jorge Juerta Pone, Yair Cruz Garcia, Aldo Temix, German Rodriguez Martinez, Gabriel Miramontes Rosales, Jorge Escamilla Hernandez, Humberto Farfan Ramon, and Edgar Martinez Rodriguez
The eight men served 30 days in jail and were released on immigration bonds.
Marty Rosenbluth, executive director of the N.C. Immigrant Rights Project, said that the sentencing set a precedent as the immigrants were prosecuted criminally. “The Obama administration claims it is targeting convicted criminals, but mostly they are catching individuals suspected of minor misdemeanors,” he said.
Rosenbluth questions whether or not the Ponce employers “who created this mess” will be sentenced as harshly as their employees. “Again, the claim is that ICE is targeting employers and not the employees, but somehow they are missing the mark as evidenced today.”
Two brothers who operated the J&A Framing and Carpentry have been indicted on several charges, including trafficking immigrants whom they employed at the Durham-based business.
A grand jury yesterday indicted Juan Antonio Ponce and Jose Alfredo Lopez Ponce, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorneys office in Raleigh. The Ponce brothers allegedly hired coyotes, or smugglers, to bring undocumented immigrants into the U.S. to work for the business. The employers also allegedly failed to pay employment taxes while paying the immigrants less than minimum wage. In addition, the Ponce brothers charged the workers rent for spartan accommodations.
A month ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided three work sites in Cary, Apex and Chapel Hill and arrested 18 workers. Eight of those arrested pleaded guilty to misdemeanor immigration-related charges and served 30 days in the detention center, while 10 men await their indictments and court hearings.
The Lopez brothers entered the U.S. illegally in the 1980s, according to the U.S. Attorney, but have married U.S. citizens and become naturalized.
This story will updated as more information becomes available.
A trio of local and national activists who have studied and documented social struggles from racism to school privatization will speak at the Durham County Library today as part of an international Community and Resistance Tour.
Writers Jordan Flaherty and Victoria Law and Durham-based activist Manju Rajendran will speak at the event, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at the library's main branch at 300 N. Roxboro St.
Flaherty is a journalist and community organizer from New Orleans, and editor at Left Turn Magazine, who has won praise for his writing on the Jena Six case and coverage of Hurricane Katrina. He is author of "FLOODLINES: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six." Read more about the speakers >>
The tour is sponsored by Haymarket Books, PM Press, Left Turn Magazine and other radical and independent media, according to the tour's website.
NC Women United and several local legislators held a press conference today to address the 16 bills the community group supported during last year's long session of the N.C. General Assembly, and how those bills fared.
NCWU, which is a coalition of organizations that advocate for and serve women, issued its 2009 legislative report card that highlights the 16 bills that promote political, social and economic equality for women, from laws addressing domestic violence to health care access.
Of the 16 bills and budget items NCWU supported, eight passed, including the Healthy Youth Act that provides medically-accurate sex education to all public schools students in 7th through 9th grade, said Rep. Susan Fisher, (D-Buncombe). Additionally, legislators passed the School Violence Prevention Act (better known as the "bullying bill") last year.
But six items that NCWU backed are still pending and could be revisited during the upcoming short session of the NCGA, which convenes mid May.
Among them is the Public Municipal Campaigns bill (H120) that could resurge in the Senate after passing the N.C. House last year. Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake) attended the NCWU event and stated his support for the bill, which would allow cities and towns to fund public elections, instead of allowing candidates to gather predominantly private contributions, as is the traditional process.
Currently, Chapel Hill is the only town to have public municipal elections, but Raleigh, Durham and other N.C. cities are in support. Read a recent Indy story about public financing >>
"Money is a corrupting factor in politics," Martin said. "Money is also a barrier to entry in politics." Martin said the pending legislation is even more relevant and timely given the recent Supreme Court ruling favoring Citizens United, which found the government cannot limit independent corporate spending on publicity for or against federal election candidates.
"The recent Supreme Court decisions puts us further at risk for becoming an oligarchy," Martin said.
Martin called the bill (H120) "first aid" to the influence of campaign contributions.
"In the end, the choice comes down to whether you want special interests to own elections, or the public to own elections," he said.
In addition to pushing these changes to campaign finance, NCWU and legislators at the event discussed a pending law that would establish a state commission on human trafficking (S353).
Michael Page, chairman of the Durham Board of County Commissioners, summarized the past year's accomplishments in his State of the County address Monday night. In his 30-minute speech, Page focused on the progress the county has made on new buildings and other capital projects, such as the opening of the Holton Career and Resource Center and the construction of the county's Human Services Complex downtown, which will include a new courthouse.
Page also lauded several county departments for winning recognition from professional organizations, and pointed to the county's new efforts to improve information and communication to the public, including the use of social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.
Page mentioned only briefly some challenges the county has faced in the past year due reduced tax revenue and budget cuts, but pointed out that the county didn't have to raise taxes or cut any jobs. He also touched on the budget gap the county will face when it begins considering the 2011-12 budget in the coming weeks.
"Until a full recovery is evident, we will do everything in our power to continue to deliver the services most critical to our residents," Page said. "Know that we will tighten our belts, we will roll up our sleeves and we will work to provide the best service level possible for our citizens. ... At the end of the day, I remain confident that we will stay true to the mission and to the values that keep Durham County a wonderful place to work and a wonderful place to live and a wonderful place to do business."
A joint statement was just issued by Smithfield Foods and the union: They've worked out "a fair election process." (Here's an update.)
Facing South reports that after a protracted negotiation process, the security guards at a Progress Energy nuclear power plant outside Raleigh have come to terms on a new contract with Securitas, the guard's direct employer. The hope is that improved working conditions will help alleviate some of the security woes workers say still plague the facility, the details of which were can be found in this 2005 Indy report.
Recently installed UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp yesterday moved not to renew the school's three-month-old contract with Victoria's Secret, reports The Daily Tar Heel. North Carolina was one of 31 universities that this spring agreed to allow the lingerie company the use of its logo for Pink, a line of sleepwear, loungewear and "intimate apparel."
Astute observers of university policy will note that the school has for years allowed apparel companies known to use sweatshop labor use of the Tar Heel logo. Said Chancellor Thorp, "I saw the catalog they produced and didn't believe the images were consistent with the values of the university in terms of the way they portray women."
So, to review: Associating with companies who hire women to make clothing in sweatshops conditions good, associating with companies who hire women to work while wearing a scant of amount of clothing bad.