Council awards $75K contract to embattled firm - East Valley Tribune: News

Council awards $75K contract to embattled firm

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Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2008 10:07 pm | Updated: 9:16 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The Chandler City Council on Thursday gave a $75,000 contract to a Mesa landscaping company under investigation on allegations it knowingly hired illegal immigrants.

Chandler officials back deal with raided firm

The city put language into the contract that allows for the inspection of Artistic Land Management's paperwork to make sure they are complying with the state law requiring they check the legal status of new hires by using E-Verify, a federal database.

"Anytime (the company) fails to comply with E-Verify, we can terminate," said Mary Wade, the city attorney.

Artistic Land Management already had $1.14 million in existing contracts before the City Council unanimously agreed to approve the $75,000 contract at its Thursday meeting.

Barnett Lotstein, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, confirmed that his office is trying to determine whether the company, along with four others that have been raided in recent months by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, violated the state's employers sanctions law.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires employers to check the legal status of all new hires.

"They take a long time these cases," Lotstein said. "We have to work from the bottom up."

Sheriff's investigators served search warrants on two sites belonging to Artistic Land Management Aug. 26.

Twenty employees suspected of being illegal immigrants were arrested the day of the raid and later indicted on midlevel felony charges of forgery and identity theft. Their cases are pending trial, according to court documents.

Investigators targeted the company after getting a tip from Agatha Santistevan, a former employee who worked in the payroll department, according to a search warrant affidavit.

She told investigators that the owner, Jose Hernandez, looked the other way when she warned him that the Social Security Administration was asking why numbers weren't matching names of employees.

Hernandez told her not to tell him about it, which would insulate him from trouble, the affidavit states.

The City Council was to consider whether to award a contract to the company the same week as the raid.

The contract was for repairing damaged landscaping in street medians and city-owned property.

It was on the consent agenda of the Aug. 28 City Council meeting, which meant it would be rubber stamped.

The council postponed the decision until Thursday to give city staff time to look into the matter.

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