AP: Hotel owners charged with hiring illegal workers
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A suburban Kansas City couple could lose their two hotels and their bank accounts and spend decades in federal prison if they're found guilty of knowingly employing illegal immigrants over the last four years, a federal prosecutor said.
Munir Ahmad Chaudary, 51, and his wife, Rhonda Bridge, 40, both of Overland Park, were charged in an indictment unsealed Tuesday with one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for personal gain, five counts of harboring undocumented aliens for personal gain and four counts of wire fraud.
The indictment said about half of the employees at the couple's two Clarion hotels — one in Overland Park and the other in Missouri, near Kansas City International Airport — were neither lawfully in the U.S. nor authorized to be employed in the U.S.
Kansas U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said Tuesday's arrests should send a message to companies that try to gain a competitive advantage by hiring illegal workers, paying them less than other employees and failing to pay income taxes or Social Security for them.
"This prosecution is aimed at unscrupulous employers who are a driving force behind illegal immigration," Grissom said at a news conference.
The couple, who were scheduled to be released after Tuesday's court appearances, live in two rooms at the Overland Park hotel, prosecutors said in the indictment.
A third person, Syed Naqvy, 34, of Overland Park, was charged with one count of making a false statement to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and one count of failing to deport from the U.S. as ordered. Two companies owned by the couple also were named in the indictment.
Prosecutors said Naqvy, a Pakistani national, worked as a desk clerk at the Overland Park hotel and lived there as part of his compensation.
Grissom said the government is placing a lien on the two hotels, worth an estimated combined $5 million to $6 million, and is seeking to have them forfeited if the couple is found guilty.
Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations Chicago region, estimated each of the two hotels employed 15 to 20 illegal immigrants.
Grissom said 10 of the illegal workers were being interviewed Tuesday morning, and that some who cooperate with the investigation could receive special consideration for temporary work visas or other ways to stay in the U.S., at least in the short term.
Hartwig and Grissom both said their aim was to remove the incentive for illegal immigrants to come to the region seeking jobs. Instead of going after the workers themselves, federal authorities are cracking down on businesses that hire them.
Grissom said Chaudary and Bridge paid the illegal workers less than their documented counterparts, but told them it was because nothing was being taken out of their pay, which often was in cash. Grissom said the pay was less than minimum wage. The couple avoided paying their share of Social Security, workers compensation, unemployment or other benefits, he said.
The couple face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy charge, up to 10 years in prison without parole for each count of harboring illegal aliens, and up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the wire fraud counts.
It was unclear if any of the defendants had obtained an attorney. The couple did not immediately return a phone message left for them at the Overland Park hotel.