Former Owner of Plant Cracked Down by ICE Sentenced to 18 Months in Court

By Paula Liu

The former owner of a meatpacking plant in Tennessee was sentenced in court to 18 months of jail time on July 31 for tax evasion charges, according to multiple reports.

James Brantley, 62, the former owner of a Grainger County slaughterhouse, was arrested following a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on April 4, 2018, and sentenced in court to 18 months in prison, along with an extra three years of probation which he will have to serve following his release from prison, the Associated Press reported.

“I cannot impose a probationary sentence in this case. In my view, to do so would undermind respect for our court system and create a situation where people would draw the conclusion that a certain class of people are treated more leniently than others,” the Senior U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer said on July 31 during court, according to Knoxville News. This came after Brantley’s lawyer asked if the former meatpacking plant owner could be spared jail time and only serve a probation sentence following Brantley’s cooperation with the federal agents.

Brantley pleaded guilty to numerous criminal charges, including tax evasion, wire fraud, as well as the employment of illegal immigrants to work at his plant in September 2018. According to court documents, during the past decade as the owner of the meatpacking plant, he managed to evade almost $1.3 million in federal payroll taxes, which did not include other state taxes. He also pled guilty of underpaying his employees when they worked overtime, AP reported. Knoxville News reported back in 2018 that Brantley waived his rights on the charges.

According to Knoxville News, Brantley paid his workers in cash, the federal court records read. During court on July 31, Brantley apologized to the people involved in front of the judge.

“I would like to say I’m sorry for what I’ve done and take full responsibility for my actions,” Brantley said during court, according to Knoxville News. “I apologize for my family, my community and my employees.”

The ICE raid that happened back in April 2018 resulted in the capture of 97 people who were working at the plant. According to an earlier report by the Associated Press, 11 people were arrested and charged, and 86 people were detained by ICE for gaining access to the country through illegal means. The raid was called the biggest workplace raid in Tennessee since back in the 1990s, according to Knoxville News. According to the earlier report by the news outlet, he had been employing illegal immigrants for the past twenty years—as early as 1988—and that alone saved him millions of dollars.

According to the news outlet, hiring these workers through illegals means meant that he would be able to save money on workplace regulations and pay the workers as much or as little as he could. These workers would make anywhere between $6 to $10 per hour, working to produce for Brantley and his company, and they would even work well beyond eight hours per day, the court records read.

ICE Cracks Down on Employers of Illegal Immigrants

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has ramped up investigations on employers who used illegal immigrant workers in the fiscal year 2018, which ended in September.

ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) department arrested more than 2,300 people in 2018 related to worksite enforcement, including nearly 800 criminal arrests of employers and over 1,500 administrative arrests of unauthorized workers. That represents an increase in worksite-related arrests of some 640 percent compared to the slightly more than 300 made the year before.

HSI opened over 6,800 worksite investigations in fiscal 2018—about four times more than the year before.

“Reducing illegal employment helps build another layer of border security, and reduces the continuum of crime that illegal labor facilitates, from the human smuggling networks that facilitate illegal border crossings to the associated collateral crimes, like identity theft, document and benefit fraud and worker exploitation,” said HSI Executive Associate Director Derek Benner in a Dec. 11 release.

The boosted enforcement didn’t translate into more indictments and convictions, “but those numbers are also expected to rise due to many ongoing investigations, which can take months to years to fully develop,” the release stated. The 72 indictments and 49 convictions in 2018 represent a little change from the 71 indictments and 55 convictions the year before.

The authorities imposed far less in fines—some $10 million in 2018 compared to nearly $98 million in 2017. That comparison, however, is misleading because the bulk of the 2017 sum came from Asplundh Tree Experts, which paid the government $95 million after a six-year HSI investigation found that the company had knowingly hired and re-hired illegal aliens.

NTD staff writer Petr Svab contributed to this article.