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Court Raids Put Focus on Companies Suspected of Hiring Illegal Immigrants

July 18, 2008

By The Providence Journal, R.I.

Jul. 18–PROVIDENCE — Gov. Donald Carcieri yesterday ordered an “internal” review of the dozens of contracts the state has with two janitorial companies whose workers were arrested in an immigration sweep and said he would not tolerate “this type of illegal activity by unscrupulous employers.”

As of yesterday, no criminal charges had been filed against the owners of the two companies, Falcon Maintenance LLC and TriState Enterprises, whose owner is the brother of a state legislator, or against any of the 31 suspected illegal immigrants working for them, although the workers all face administrative charges of being in this country illegally.

But the fallout continued with advocates for the arrested workers assembling a legal defense team, and the University of Rhode Island reporting that none of the cleaning crews it hired through TriState has showed up for work since the roundups Tuesday at six Rhode Island courthouses where the people worked.

URI spokeswoman Linda Acciardo said the university realized on Wednesday morning that the cleaning workers hadn’t shown up the night before when a janitorial supervisor realized “the building keys had not been removed for that morning’s shift.” None has come to work since.

In a statement, Carcieri said the Department of Administration is taking “all necessary steps to ensure the cleaning and maintenance operations are not disrupted at the buildings contracted to the two companies,” while reviewing the companies’ “compliance with state and federal employment and immigration laws and contract service levels.” His press secretary Amy Kempe did not respond to inquiries about what kinds of “steps” the administration is taking and hung up on a reporter asking questions about the statement.

She also refused to elaborate on Carcieri’s vow to “take all necessary action to ensure that all state contractors abide by state and federal law,” although the governor alluded to the possibility of asking federal permission to use to E-Verify system to check the “employment eligibility of current state employees and employees of state contractors who may have access to sensitive or secure materials.”

In the interim, Acciardo said, URI has asked seven full-time custodians to work four hours of overtime daily — at roughly twice the $13.58 an hour rate it was paying TriState — until the company or the Department of Administration provides an alternative.

Community College of Rhode Island was braced for possible problems after only 10 of 32 of its janitors showed up for the 6 p.m. shift at its Warwick campus on Wednesday night. And Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch’s office notified federal immigration officials after one of two janitors, supplied by Falcon, did not show up for work. “She used the name Josselin Vasquez … on her application for Falcon, but, obviously, we believe that it’s an alias,” said Lynch spokesman Michael Healey.

Neither the governor’s office nor the Department of Administration responded to inquiries about how many other no-shows, if any, there were at the many other state work sites.

Documents provided by the judiciary yesterday list Anthony DeSimone Jr., as the contact for TriState Enterprises at 1270 Mineral Spring Ave., in North Providence, and Vincent D’Elia as the contact for Falcon Maintenance at 160 Winsor Ave. in Johnston. DeSimone is the brother of state Rep. John DeSimone, a one-time candidate for House Speaker. The two companies have at least 45 contracts to clean state buildings, including the main state office building at One Capital Hill, motor vehicle registry offices, the state’s emergency command center and communications network, E-911, URI and CCRI.

The arrested workers — 16 women and 15 men — originated from Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil and Mexico.

Two days after the arrests, the whereabouts of many of the 19 who are in custody are unknown, and volunteer lawyers trying to locate those detainees accused Immigration and Customs Enforcement of “playing games.”

According to ICE authorities, 19 of the 31 people arrested are being held at federal detention centers in the area, and 12 were conditionally released on humanitarian grounds, such as being primary caregivers. On Tuesday, Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge at the ICE office in Boston, said detainees are being held at various regional locations that he would not identify, calling that “too sensitive a question.”

“It’s the typical games that they play,” said Ondine Sniffin, a lawyer for Catholic Social Services in New Bedford who helped detainees arrested during last year’s raid on that city’s Bianco Inc. factory.

Sniffin said of immigration authorities, “They’re not going to make it easy for us even though there are tons of attorneys in the Greater Boston area who are willing to help,” as well as in Rhode Island. “Forty-eight hours later, are they willing to give us a list of all the detainees and indicate exactly where they’re being held? No. They haven’t done that. That to me shows bad faith on their part.”

Vice Consul Rosemary Arauz, of the Guatemalan Consulate in Providence, said she met with four Guatemalan detainees — three men and one woman — yesterday at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls. Arauz said she does not know where a fifth Guatemalan arrested in the raid is being detained.

“Because we are consular office, we were allowed to visit the detainees. Fortunately they are in good health. They are not treated in a bad manner whatsoever,” she said. John Wilshire, lead attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services, said he met with several relatives of detainees yesterday at St. Patrick School in Providence and none had received calls from their family members, even though ICE officials say detainees are allowed to call their families or legal counsel.

“People go into these black holes, and people don’t know where they are. If they do know, they can’t get a hold of them,” Wilshire said. “It’s terrifying for families who can’t find their brothers, their sisters or their mothers; that’s probably the biggest anxiety,” added Rachel Miller of Rhode Island Jobs With Justice.

“A growing coalition from across southern New England met yesterday at St. Patrick Church in Providence, to plan legal, social, and financial aid for the detainees and their families. They included representatives of Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, Fuerza Laboral (Power of Workers), the Immigrants in Action Committee of St. Teresa Church, as well as lawyers from Greater Boston Legal Services, the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Lawyers Guild of Connecticut and clergy.

Said Greg Pehrson of Fuerza Labora: “A real number of organizations want to help on this. We started immediately trying to cover different bases — the social aspect, legal aspect, emotional aspect, and fundraising.”

Meanwhile yesterday, information streamed in on the court cleaning contracts.

On Wednesday, Kempe, the governor’s press secretary, denied the Department of Administration had any record of court contracts since the adoption by voters of a separation-of-powers amendment. Yesterday, however, the Judiciary made public purchase orders for its most recent contracts with TriState and Falcon that appeared to have been generated by the statewide accounting system overseen by the Department of Administration (DOA).

In the year that ended June 30, the court system paid TriState a total of $493,325 and Falcon, $261,643. The state paid TriState an additional $732,891 and Falcon, $579,456 under the non-court cleaning contracts, according to DOA Director Jerome Williams.

Asked repeatedly in recent days if any other bidders were allowed to compete for the state cleaning contracts, the Carcieri administration has not answered. But the court system yesterday named the other bidders for its contracts and how much the bid was. The documents show, for example, that TriState and Falcon were the only two bidders for a Feb. 1, 2008 to Jan. 11, 2011 cleaning contract for the McGrath Judicial Complex that went from Falcon to TriState even though TriState wanted more money for the job ($531,504) than Falcon ($482,448.).

It happened again in the award of a three-year cleaning contract at the Garrahy courthouse in Providence. Falcon offered to do the job for $2.299 million, TriState for $2.587 million, the Pawtucket-based Clean Management Inc. for $2.866 million, and Jani King of East Providence for $4.040 million. The contract — previously held by Falcon — again went to TriState.

In recent years, TriState has been given more and more of the business that formerly went to Falcon, even when TriState was not the low-bidder. Darlene Walsh, a financial officer in the court system, could not explain but said factors other than price count. She cited “experience” as an example.

By Katherine Gregg and Karen Lee Ziner

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To see more of the The Providence Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.projo.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Providence Journal, R.I.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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