The owners of two Kansas City-area Clarion hotels have been indicted on charges of knowingly hiring undocumented workers who were paid less than other employees.
Munir Ahmad Chaudary, 51, and his wife, Rhonda R. Bridge, 40, both of Overland Park, own the Clarion Hotel at 7000 W. 108th St. in Overland Park and the Clarion Hotel at 11828 NW Plaza Circle near the Kansas City International Airport.
Both pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said the grand jury's indictment alleges Chaudary and Bridge knew they were hiring undocumented workers to serve as housekeepers. This gave them a competitive advantage over law-abiding hotel owners, Grissom said.
"They paid the undocumented workers less and they paid them in cash. Their economic motive was to cut their costs and to get an advantage on other hotels that abided by the law," Grissom said.
The couple has been charged with one count of conspiracy to harbor undocumented workers for personal gain, five counts of harboring undocumented workers for personal gain and four counts of wire fraud.
The government is seeking to forfeit the proceeds of the crimes, including the two hotels the couple own. The government would seize the properties and then sell them, gaining money for taxpayers. The couple failed to pay the government the payroll taxes that they should have, Grissom alleges.
"This prosecution is aimed at unscrupulous employers who are a driving force behind illegal immigration," Grissom said. "We're going to go after people who are hiring them."
The indictment alleges that in December 2011 investigators from DHS Homeland Security Investigations and the Kansas Department of Revenue received information that the two hotels were employing undocumented workers.
Investigators interviewed hotel employees and found out that most of them were illegally in the United States.
In June 2012, an undercover agent took a job as a housekeeper at the Clarion hotel in Overland Park, Grissom said.
The agent made it clear to Chaudary and Bridge when he was hired that he was unlawfully in the United States and had no documents allowing him to be employed, according to the indictment.
The agent then learned that Chaudary and Bridge paid employees who they believed were illegally in the United States a lower hourly rate than other employees.
When the undercover agent asked Chaudary why he was paid less, Chaudary told him it was because nothing was being withheld from wages to employees who were illegal, according to the indictment.
None of the other undocumented workers are being arrested, Grissom said.
"We are going to enforce immigration laws and we're going to enforce them equally. We're not going to enforce them on the backs of victims such as these undocumented workers. We're going to go after people who are hiring them," he said.
Grissom said the undocumented workers were interviewed by immigration officials, who will decide what to do about their immigration status after the case has been closed.
"We'll treat each person as an individual. What are your reasons for being in the country, do you have an extensive criminal history, are you a gang-affiliated member?" special agent Gary Hartwig said.
Social workers will help determine if there are routes in which the illegal immigrants can obtain legal means to stay in the United States.
In addition to the charges against the owners, a desk clerk, Syed Naqvy, 34, of Overland Park, is charged with one count of making a false statement to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and one count of failing to depart from the United States as ordered.
Grissom said this is an important prosecution and sets a tone for the hospitality industry.
"This will give them pause to think about what they're doing, do they want to go to prison just for the mere purpose of having an unfair advantage over competitors?" Grissom said.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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