Chandler backs contracts with embattled company - East Valley Tribune: News

Chandler backs contracts with embattled company

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Posted: Saturday, November 15, 2008 7:02 pm | Updated: 11:47 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The Chandler City Council is primed to extend two contracts to a landscape company that authorities say is under investigation in connection with hiring illegal immigrants.

Council awards $75K contract to embattled firm

Chandler officials back deal with raided firm

Artistic Land Management has more than $1 million in various contracts with Chandler and city managers are recommending the City Council extend two of the contracts - worth $660,000 total - for another year at its meeting on Thursday.

The council awarded the Mesa company a $75,000 contract in September, shortly after the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office raided its offices and arrested employees.

Councilman Matt Orlando said the new contract contains the same safeguards as the one approved in September.

That one allows the city to inspect the records of any contractor or subcontractor and break the contract if any violations are found.

"He always has and always will follow the state and federal laws," said attorney Phil Austin, who represents Jose Hernandez, owner of Artistic Land Management.

Twenty employees suspected of being illegal immigrants were indicted on charges of forgery and identity theft, according to court documents, but the Maricopa County Attorney's Office has yet to make a case that the company violated the state law requiring employers to check the legal status of all new hires.

"All these cases are still under review," said Mike Scerbo, spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

The county attorney is also investigating a Chandler candle company, Sunsplash-Golfland Entertainment Center in Mesa, a Chandler door company and a Phoenix cleaning company that cleaned Mesa City Hall, all in connection with the same offense.

But like workers with Artistic Land Management, employees with those other companies were charged with forgery and identity theft.

The sheriff's office began investigating Artistic Land Management in April after an employee reported that Hernandez was knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

She said he disregarded her warnings that the Social Security Administration was asking about the numbers of certain employees.

The employee quit after Hernandez told her not to tell him about the inquiries to avoid any knowledge of any wrongdoing.

One of the employees who was arrested pleaded guilty Sept. 25 to criminal impersonation, a low-level felony.

Gibran Ernesto Meza-Flores, 30, was sentenced to one year probation and 25 days in jail.

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