The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Wednesday filed the first case under the 2-year-old employer sanctions law that punishes businesses for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
The civil complaint filed in Maricopa County Superior Court alleges that Michelle Hardas, manager of Scottsdale Art Factory, 7447 E. Indian School Road, plotted with an illegal immigrant, Hilario Santiago-Hernandez, to skirt the law so he and other illegal immigrants could work for her.
“We don’t think this alleged scheme is limited to one company,” said County Attorney Andrew Thomas.
The law took effect on Jan. 1, 2008, and requires employers to check the immigration status of all new workers through the federal government’s E-verify system and fire those found not to be in this country legally.
According to the complaint, Santiago-Hernandez set up his own corporation known as Santiago Homemade Furniture, which worked exclusively for Scottsdale Art Factory.
Santiago-Hernandez formed his company just four months after the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office raided the Scottsdale Art Factory on Jan. 28, arresting him and turning him over to federal authorities.
The sheriff’s office has conducted 13 such raids and found many illegal immigrants, many of whom were charged with forgery or fraud for having fake identification. Others who hadn’t committed state crimes were turned over to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Santiago-Hernandez admitted he was living in the U.S. illegally and was granted a voluntary return to Mexico, the complaint states.
Thomas said investigators were able to recruit an informant and they have Hardas and Santiago-Hernandez on surveillance video on Sept. 28 discussing with the informant how to set up a sham corporation in order to work for her.
The complaint states that Hardas suggested to Santiago-Hernandez that he could charge a 5 percent kickback for himself for hiring workers to work for her. Someone who answered the phone at the business told the Tribune that Hardas had no comment.
If a judge finds in the state’s favor, then the Scottsdale Art Factory can be shut down for 10 days.
Some of the companies that have been raided were under contract with Mesa, Chandler and Maricopa County.
Thomas said Wednesday it took two years to bring the first case because they are complex.