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Co. Raided, Accused of Hiring Illegals

Associated Press | March 6, 2007
Jay Lindsay

Company Hired Illegal Immigrants to Keep Up With Military Contracts, Feds Say BOSTON (AP) -- The owner and three managers of a New Bedford leather manufacturer that's won more than $91 million in U.S. military contracts were arrested Tuesday for allegedly hiring illegal immigrants.

The company, Michael Bianco Inc., hired illegal aliens as it tried to meet deadlines to supply backpacks and other products to the military, federal officials said in a court filing. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided the company Tuesday morning.

In an affidavit, investigators claimed that owner Francesco Insolia, plant manager Dilia Costa, payroll manager Ana Figueroa and office manager Gloria Melo allowed an undercover officer who told them she was an illegal immigrant to continue working at the plant, and Figueroa advised her how to obtain a fake Social Security card.

Authorities said the informant tipped them off.

"The (informant) stated that Insolia and other MBI employees working on his behalf have knowingly and actively been hiring illegal aliens to fill their expanding workforce," Melvin H. Graham, a special agent for ICE, said in his affidavit.

Insolia, 50, Costa, 55, Figueroa, 40, and Melo, 41, each were charged with conspiring to encourage or induce illegal aliens to reside in the United States -- which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison -- and conspiring to hire illegal aliens, which is punishable by up to six months in prison.

Luis Torres, 45, was arrested and charged with transferring fraudulent identification documents. He was not an employee. He faces 15 years in prison. All five defendants are to appear Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Boston.

Authorities said hundreds of Michael Bianco employees will be "interviewed carefully" to determine their immigration status.

The practice of hiring illegals was so widespread, according to the informant, that employees became nervous during an immigration raid of a nearby company in 2005 and Insolia announced over the loudspeaker that all employees were free to leave.

"According to the (informant), approximately 75 individuals ran and hid," Graham said in his sworn testimony. "Some hid in their vehicles and others hid in boxes on the third floor at MBI."

Calls to the company were not answered Tuesday morning.

Michael Bianco Inc., founded in 1985, specialized in manufacturing high-end leather goods for retailers including Coach Inc. and Timberland Co. before landing a $9.4 million military contract in 2003 to make survival vests.

Between 2004 and 2006, it won $82 million in military contracts to make products including lightweight backpacks.

The contracts led to a massive expansion of the company's work force, which grew from 85 employees in 2003 to more than 500 today, according the affidavit.

"Employer accountability is essential to ensuring the integrity of the nation's immigration system," U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials have said they're stepping-up efforts to target employers who hire illegals. Last week, five former managers from IFCO Systems North America, a pallet recycling company, pleaded guilty in federal court in Albany, N.Y., to hiring undocumented foreign workers.



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