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One fell swoop: a federal raid on construction sites in Kentucky raises uncomfortable questions for builders about who will be held accountable for verifying subs' legal status.

BUILDERS IN THE FUTURE MAY WELL POINT TO May 9, 2006, as the day when the immigration debate stopped being academic for the housing industry Early that morning, federal agents raided three of Fischer Homes' jobsites in Kentucky, Fischer's headquarters in Crestview Hills, Ky., and apartment complexes where contractors allegedly boarded illegal workers. That raid led to the arrests of 76 undocumented workers and four of the builder's construction supervisors.

The builder's employees--construction manager Timothy Copsy, superintendents William Allison and Doug Witt, and assistant superintendent Bill Ring--are accused of aiding and abetting as well as harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain. They pleaded not guilty and were back at work one day after their arrests, but each faces a 10-year prison sentence and $250,000 in fines if convicted. The illegal workers who were apprehended are charged with misdemeanors and face six months of jail time and deportation. On May 11, the U.S. District Court in Covington, Ky, handed down indictments of nine people, including Fischer's supervisors; Robert Pratt, a contractor who provides construction labor to Fischer Homes; and the owners of R&J Framing.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had been investigating Fischer's construction sites for two years prior to the raid. A Department of Homeland Security spokesman, Dean Boyd, wouldn't comment on why Fischer Homes was targeted, except to say, "We don't randomly pick companies. We follow evidence and go where it leads." Boyd also wouldn't say whether other builders or contractors are under surveillance.

Fischer Homes CEO Robert Hawksley stated that his company doesn't condone the hiring of illegal workers and requires contractors to sign documents stating they aren't employing any. Russ Beymer, Fischer's director of marketing, told BUILDER that the company would continue to rely primarily on contractors to verify workers' legal status. But that might not satisfy the government, whose criminal complaint against Fischer's employees includes one sentence that could send shivers down the spines of builders across the nation: the "layer" that Fischer Homes tried to create between itself and illegal workers by hiring them through contractors "does not relieve Fischer of the responsibility to ensure that [its] contractors are employing a legal workforce."

The complaint states that in late January 2006, law enforcement officials visited Fischer's jobsites in Hebron, Florence, and Union, Ky., under the guise that they were searching for a Hispanic male wanted for murder in Texas. There, they spoke with Fischer's superintendents and interviewed Hispanic workers, several of whom admitted that they were in the United States illegally. At Fischer's subdivision in Florence, Copsy allegedly told an ICE agent that "approximately 50 percent of the workers on this ... site were illegally in he United States."

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Title Annotation:GOVERNMENT CRACKDOWN; illegal immigrant workers
Author:Caulfield, John; Curry, Pat
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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