Pleas pending in illegal Mexican workers case

A Texas company and a field operations supervisor have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of conspiring to harbor and transport and aiding and abetting 19 Mexican workers who were living in the city in 2011 and did not have proper immigration status.

Douglas C. Wiggill, 43, a field operations supervisor with GPX, of Sealy, Texas, a seismic surveying company that was on a job site near Williamsport two years ago, and the seismic surveying and mapping business accepted the terms Tuesday, according to U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith, who is in charge of prosecution in the state’s Middle District.

Wiggill, a Canadian who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, has agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of aiding and abetting the improper entry of aliens to the county, according to Smith. He will receive up to six months in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.

The business, meanwhile, accepts the plea agreement on a charge of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and agrees to forfeit $250,000 and pay a $25,000 fine. The maximum penalty it could have received was $500,000 fine and five years probation. As part of the plea agreement, the business must start a corporate compliance program to confirm the employment eligibility and identity of existing and future employees.

Federal prosecutors were unaware of the Mexicans living in the city and working at gas sites nearby until one of them was arrested when a distraught mother of a pre-teenage girl saw her 12-year-old trying to be lured into a pickup truck during the evening of June 23, 2011, in the 300 block of Elmira Street.

The man inside the truck, Adrian Arriaga-Castro, 27, was accused of alleging luring the city girl and harassing her, but those charges later were dismissed by county District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt for unspecified reasons. A federal judge deported Castro.

Castro’s arrest, however, was just one of many as the police suspected immigration issues when they looked at where he was living, according to city police records.

The investigation resulted in police contacting U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement officials who apprehended additional Mexicans living in overcrowded conditions in an apartment complex in the 300 block of Elmira Street. The remaining illegals were detained by immigration agents the following day at 342 W. Third St.

The illegal workers’ arrests also led to city Codes Administrator Joseph Gerardi investigating the building and filing the paperwork necessary to shut down the company’s business office for not obtaining occupancy permits or paying mercantile tax.

As a field operations supervisor, Wiggill arranged for the transportation and housing of company employees, according to Smith.

He faced a maximum sentence on all 20 counts of the indictment of 100 years in prison, a fine of $5 million, a supervised release term of 60 years and a special assessment of $2,000. GPX had faced a possible maximum fine of $10 million, a probation term of five years on each count and a special assessment of $8,000.

Smith assigned the investigation to Assistant U.S. Attorney George J. Rocktashel.

The plea agreements are subject to approval by the court and the case assigned to U.S. Middle District Chief Judge Yvette Kane.