One man's journey from a polygamous enclave in Mexico to the top of the Western Washington drywall industry took a hit after his company became the latest named in an immigration violation investigation. It appears David Jones' remarkable ride may have taken a wrong turn.
Woodinville, Washington-based DJ Drywall, Jones' company, was knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, according to the Department of Justice. He was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Seattle for breaching provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. In February, the drywall executive pleaded guilty to knowingly convincing a Mexican resident to come to the U.S. in violation of immigration regulations. The plea was the culmination of three separate investigations and a number of civil fines related to DJ Drywall's hiring practices.
An unusual journey halted
Jones was one of 58 children born to a man practicing polygamy in Mexico. After helping establish his previous employer Ketchikan Drywall Services as a leader in the industry, he broke off and started his own company. Now, he is one of the few business owners named in immigration investigations to face criminal charges for hiring practices. Ketchikan Drywall was also subject to immigration investigations, seattlepi.com reported. An ICE investigation alleged the company violated immigration laws 225 times. The claims resulted in a $173,250 fine. These inquiries were where the federal government first became aware of Jones.
"I thought I'd seen everything, and then this comes along," U.S. District Chief Judge Ricardo Martinez told seattlepi.com. "There's always something new under the sun."
"In 2008 and 2011, DJ Drywall was audited by ICE."
Typically, when an employer is named in an investigation of this sort, the charges are limited to fines levied against the company, monitoring of hiring practices and required back pay funds. Rarely do executives face criminal charges themselves. Even when the violation involves hiring undocumented immigrants.
Not the first investigation for DJ Drywall
In 2008 and 2011, DJ Drywall was audited by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both times, the company ended up paying fines for Form I-9 violations. The penalties amounted to $32,316 and $27,405, respectively. Another investigation was opened in 2013. This time, the DOJ claimed that Jones' company was hiring people not authorized to work in the U.S. and paying them "off the books." In addition, the investigation alleged DJ Drywall was "encouraging" undocumented hires to submit false Form I-9s and green cards.
"This employer repeatedly hired an illegal workforce as though the rules did not apply to him," U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes said in the DOJ press release. "Allowing some businesses to ignore hiring rules creates an uneven playing field for all. These prosecutions are aimed at stopping this conduct and eliminating conditions for workers that are often unsafe and unsound."
The plea agreement called for Jones himself to hand over a $25,000 fine to the U.S. government. He will be on probation for two years. DJ Drywall, meanwhile, owes a $75,000 civil penalty and will be on probation for five years. Though the probation period, the company will be required to run background checks on all new hires using E-Verify.
DJ Drywall one of many
However, there's a chance DJ Drywall may not survive its probation, according to seattlepi.com. Though Jones was charged with criminal violations and his company faces penalties and probation, his isn't the only company that engages in non-compliant hiring practices.
"This crime is rampant in our country and there's no fix for it," Don Reno, assistant U.S. attorney, told Martinez, according to the media outlet.
Plenty of other companies cut corners, and they aren't dealing with fines and probation. Unless they too are audited by ICE, they have a competitive advantage over DJ Drywall, seattlepi.com explained. As a result, the punishment could spell the end for DJ Drywall.
Employers that strive for compliance - knowing that otherwise, if accused of violations, they face fines and burdensome requirements - can use E-Verify to their advantage. The federal background verification program is a supplement to the always mandatory Form I-9. Reno said the system is strong enough to flag nearly all attempts at immigration fraud, according to seattlepi.com. Employers that hope to ensure compliance could certainly start by enrolling in E-Verify.