SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – An upscale hotel chain has agreed to pay about $2 million to settle allegations that 43 Utah employees working in the country illegally had returned to work after they were flagged by an immigration audit and fired, according to federal authorities.
The U.S. attorney's office in Utah and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the settlement Wednesday.
In exchange for Grand America Hotels and Resorts paying a nearly $2 million fine and adopting new hiring policies, federal officials agreed not to file charges against the hotel chain.
Prosecutors say midlevel and lower-level managers at Salt Lake City's Grand America Hotel formed temporary employment agencies that were shell companies used to rehire the fired workers.
Through those companies, 43 workers returned to their jobs within days using false names and documents.
Officials say the workers are no longer at the hotel and four hotel managers involved have been fired. Two other managers were reprimanded. The managers worked at the Grand America and its sister hotel, the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.
Prosecutors said individuals involved in the scheme will face charges, but they say hotel executives were unaware of the deal and the company cooperated with the investigation.
The hotel also launched an internal investigation into the shell companies, which it shared with federal officials.
Brett Tolman, an attorney for Grand America Hotels and Resorts, said the company is glad the issue is resolved and looks forward to moving on.
"We conducted an extensive internal review and investigation and cooperated with the government from the very beginning of this when it was brought to our attention," said Tolman, a former U.S. attorney for Utah.
He said the workforce in hotels can fluctuate, so the industry often relies on temporary employment agencies.
The 43 employees involved in this case held various positions at the hotel but mainly worked in housekeeping, Tolman said.
The resort chain owns properties in Wyoming, Arizona, California, Idaho and Utah, including the Grand America, Salt Lake City's only five-diamond hotel.
The 43 workers were among 133 employees flagged by immigration officials in 2011 and fired.
The employees were hired before the hotel used the federal E-Verify system to check the eligibility of its workers, authorities said.
The U.S. attorney's office said that while the hotel and its executives helped investigators, the hotel is paying a fine because the employees involved in the scheme were acting on the hotel's behalf.
The hotel chain will pay nearly $2 million to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and spend another $500,000 to adopt new hiring policies, such as retraining corporate lawyers on immigration practices and retooling labor contracts.
"All industries, regardless of size, location and type are expected to comply with the law," said Kumar Kibble, a Denver-based Homeland Security agent overseeing Utah investigations. "As this significant settlement demonstrates, there are real consequences for businesses that employ an illegal workforce."