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Swift part of illegal immigrant "hiring scheme"

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Lawsuit: Swift part of 'hiring scheme

Sharon Dunn, (Bio) [email protected]
July 29, 2005

Swift & Co. is named in a federal racketeering lawsuit charging that one of its subsidiaries and three other agricultural companies in Idaho have conspired to hire illegal immigrants.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by Canyon County Commissioners in southwestern Idaho, contends the companies violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, an anti-corruption law that originally targeted the mafia.

The commissioners state that the businesses -- Syngenta Seeds, Sorrento Lactalis, Swift Beef Co. and Harris Moran Seed Co. -- took part in an "illegal immigrant hiring scheme," partly through agreements with temporary employment agencies. That resulted in undocumented workers using county resources such as indigent medical care, jails and schools. The commissioners seek triple damages, as well.

The claims, however, smack of money and politics, said Jim Herlihy, spokesman for Swift & Co., on Thursday. Swift & Co. is based in Greeley. The lawsuit is spearheaded by commissioner Robert Vasquez, who also is campaigning for Congress.

"As a large employer, it's logical that people might question us, but we've never given any reason" to do so, Herlihy said. "We're a large employer, and it's easy to make accusations."

Howard Foster, a Chicago attorney representing the Idaho county, said the lawsuit will open the doors for other municipalities to file similar claims.

That wouldn't be likely in Weld County, said commissioner Mike Geile, who has worked with Swift for years. The company has processes in place to ensure the legality of employees, he said.

"I think it is a stretch," Geile said of the lawsuit. "I guess there could be a serious situation that could cause any group of commissioners to try to get some relief from some dilemmas they're facing, such as illegals using services. As far as this plant here, I don't see it happening."

Herlihy said it is interesting that the lawsuit names Swift, which he said only used the Labor Ready employment agency in Nampa, Idaho, about a dozen times in the past two years. The Nampa plant has been downsized in the past two years because the borders have been closed to Canadian beef, he said. Employment there has shrunk to 400 from 560 during that time, Herlihy said.

"We source about 95 percent of our employees from references from our existing employees," Herlihy said. "We've used Labor Ready to supplement our resources when we haven't been able to fill positions with walk-in applicants. We take every step that we can as a responsible employer to ensure that applicants are qualified."

Herlihy said Swift follows documentation required by the federal government's I-9 form, which is how employees document their legal status.

The I-9 form contains a list of 16 different items of documentation, including driver's license, Social Security card, birth certificate, U.S. Citizen ID card, military card and voter registration card.

"We'd bring people in on a temporary basis for a couple of days to see if they were fit, then we'd hire them permanently," Herlihy said. "When we do that, we subject them to the same processes we do for all of our prospective employees. We follow those same processes at all of our plants."

Associated Press contrib-uted to this report.

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