In 2006, the federal government charged four supervisors at Fischer Homes in Kentucky with aiding, abetting and harboring illegal immigrant workers.
The construction firm was one of the first to face charges after the Bush administration announced a dramatic shift in immigration policy: It would criminally prosecute employers who knowingly hired illegal workers.
But the charges against the firm's supervisors were later dismissed, and now company officials are speaking out about the case.
CEO and company founder Henry Fischer was so outraged by the charges that he hired journalist Jon Entine to document the ordeal. Entine has just released a book about the case.
Fischer says the charges were baseless. He repeatedly declined offers to reach a plea deal and pay a $1 million fine; instead, he spent between $3 million and $4 million fighting the charges before they were dismissed. Fischer only decided recently to go public with the story, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement turned over its documents on the case in February.
The Justice Department still refuses to declare the company cleared. Under a statute of limitations, it has two more years to reopen the case. And prosecutor Robert McBride says the Fischer Homes prosecution was a success because it led to the conviction of more than 100 people, including many subcontractors and their undocumented employees.
According to officials and the affidavit, the government collected evidence against the Fischer Homes supervisors while agents pretended to be searching for a Mexican man wanted for murder. They secretly recorded and videotaped conversations with Fischer supervisors. The video is not public evidence, but Fischer officials have seen it.
The government affidavit alleges that Hispanic workers declared themselves to be illegal in front of Fischer supervisors, but the company says those conversations were in Spanish, which the supervisors don't speak. The affidavit also alleges a conspiracy with one subcontractor, later convicted of hiring illegal workers, simply because a supervisor had the subcontractor's number on speed dial in his cell phone.
Fischer Homes contends the allegations of a conspiracy to hire illegal workers for financial gain are absurd; it says company documents show all workers are paid similarly regardless of ethnicity.
Prosecutor McBride told NPR he could not comment on the quality of evidence in the case.