A Texas company and a field operations supervisor stand accused of conspiring to harbor and transport Mexican workers living in Williamsport but not permitted to live or work in the U.S., employing them as part of a team doing seismic and surface mapping surveys for the oil and gas industry.
GPX, a seismic surveying company based in Sealy, Texas, and its field operations supervisor, Douglas C. Wiggill, 42, of Fort Worth, Texas, are named in a grand jury indictment charging the company and Wiggill with harboring and transporting illegal aliens and conspiracy to commit those offenses, according to U.S. Attorney Peter J. Smith.
Wiggill pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the charge before U.S. Middle District Magistrate Judge William I. Arbuckle and posted $10,000 bond. He has retained Kyle Rude, a city attorney.
The indictment alleges that in May 2011 the company and Wiggill hired the illegal workers to go on a seismic surveying project in Lycoming County. The indictment further alleges that GPX and Wiggill failed to verify the immigration status of the men and did not prepare the required forms and supporting documentation concerning their authorization to be in the country.
According to the indictment, GPX executed a contractor compliance agreement certifying that all personnel were authorized to work legally in the U.S. when, in fact, they were not, Smith said.
Federal officials were not aware of the Mexicans living in the city until city police arrested one of the workers, Adrian Arriaga-Castro, 27 at the time, the night of June 23, 2011. He was accused of alleging luring a 12-year-old city girl into his pickup truck and harassing her, charges later dismissed by county District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt. A federal judge deported Castro in October.
But it was Castro's arrest that resulted in police contacting U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement officials, who apprehended nine 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.
City Codes Administrator Joseph Gerardi said he immediately shut down the company's business office because it had not obtained occupancy permits, nor was it paying mercantile tax.
As a field operations supervisor, Wiggill allegedly could hire and fire whomever and arranged for the transportation and housing of company employees. Furthermore, Wiggill used company credit cards to pay $17,304 in monthly rent and security deposits for the men and he allegedly more than $2,700 rent to operate the business on the first floor of 341 W. Third St.
If convicted, Wiggill faces 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 also faces a possible maximum fine of $10 million, a probation term of five years on each count and a special assessment of $8,000.
Federal agency personnel provided additional statements about the case Wednesday.
"Homeland Security Investigations is committed to holding businesses and their managers accountable when they knowingly hire an illegal workforce," said John Kelleghan, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Philadelphia. "HSI and our law enforcement partners will continue to ensure that employers follow our nation's hiring laws, which ultimately protects job opportunities for the nation's legal workers, and levels the playing field for those businesses that play by the rules."
Harold Ort, a representative of Immigration Customs Enforcement in New Jersey, spoke further about the case Wednesday.
"Our effective, comprehensive work site enforcement strategy must address employers who knowingly hire illegal workers in order to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce," Ort said.
The agency, Ort said, would continue to use "all available criminal and civil tools at its disposal, including civil fines and debarment, to help deter employees who knowingly hire illegal labor."
Attempts to reach Rude for comment Wednesday were not successful. Assistant U.S. Attorney George J. Rocktashel has been assigned as prosecutor and jury selection has been scheduled starting 9:30 a.m. July 23 before District Chief Judge Yvette Kane.