Two McDonald's Corp. restaurant managers in Savannah, Ga., were charged Wednesday with selling identities stolen from U.S. citizens to prospective workers -- a case that federal authorities said shows the risks employers are increasingly taking to mask the hiring of illegal immigrants.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Wednesday that agents executed search warrants at two McDonald's outlets and the headquarters of McDonald's-NTG Enterprises, where they seized employee records and other evidence. The Savannah-based company owns and operates six McDonald's restaurants in the area.
Agents arrested managers Oscar Lazo, 51, a Peruvian national, and Eva Ramos, 35, a U.S. citizen, as well as nine immigrants at the restaurants around noon Wednesday. They also arrested two Mexican nationals, former employees of McDonald's in the area at their homes, as well as a fifth defendant, for whom ICE did not release any information.
McDonald's-NTG could not be reached for comment. The company's owner and chief executive, Nina Gompels, did not return phone messages left at her office and home.
An ICE official said that the investigation is ongoing and that he could not rule out further indictments. "We are looking at any culpability up the management chain as well," said ICE special agent-in-charge Brock Nicholson.
Illegal immigrants, sometimes with the encouragement of their employers, are increasingly using the bona fide documents of legal residents or citizens of the U.S. to get hired.
Nicholson said that the Savannah case could be indicative of a new trend. As the federal government's "ability to investigate becomes better," he said, enterprises that want to engage in illegal hiring are devising "more sophisticated methods" to avoid detection.
About 11 million illegal immigrants reside in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Lacking documents, some of them have traditionally used phony names and Social Security numbers to gain employment. But in recent years, technology has made it increasingly difficult for counterfeit documents to pass muster.