Federal employee audit of Stein Eriksen Lodge reveals small portion of 'ineligible' workers

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 5:31 p.m. MDT

Guests check in at the Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley Ski Resort in Park City, Utah, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. A federal audit of employment records found a small portion of the Park City luxury hotel's workers were ineligible to work in the United States.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal audit of Stein Eriksen Lodge's employment records found a small portion of the Park City luxury hotel's workers were ineligible to work in the United States.

"Only a few" of the employees identified in the audit as ineligible to work returned with proper documentation by an April 3 deadline, said lodge spokeswoman Sarah Myers. 

Myers would not release specific numbers of employees affected by the audit because its conclusion happened to coincide with the end of the ski season when employees tend to leave to seek seasonal employment elsewhere. Many of the lodge's seasonal workers seek jobs in Nantucket, Mass., each year as the ski season winds down, she said.

"We're not going to release specific numbers because that is a work in progress," she said.

Other news media have described the number of affected employees as "dozens."

The audit, conducted over about two months, mostly revealed some technical problems with I-9 forms, which are employment eligibility verification documents. Some of the forms had not been filled out correctly or they had missing information, Myers said.

Those issues have been addressed and the lodge is in compliance with federal law. No fines were issued in connection with the audit, the first in the lodge's 30-year history, she said.

Regional ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice in a statement said the agency does not confirm whether an employer has been audited unless the review has resulted in criminal charges or civil fines.

The audits, according to Kice, are conducted "to ensure businesses are complying with our nation's laws."

"In fact, the audits often show that businesses are in compliance, or, that they are able to correct any deficiencies without ICE seeking criminal or civil penalties," Kice wrote.

There are approximately 110,000 undocumented workers in Utah. While the number of I-9 audits conducted by ICE nationwide has grown by nearly 1,000 since 2009, ICE has limited resources to conduct the reviews or initiate worksite cases. The agency conducted 2,496 I-9 inspections in FY2011, which is the period between Oct. 1, 2010 through Sept. 30, 2011.

Roger Tsai, a Salt Lake attorney who specializes in immigration law and its impacts on businesses, said it can be challenging for employers to know that the documents presented to them by prospective employees are authentic. 

"They're not forensic experts," he said.

The federal goverment, for instance, has issued some 40 different versions of Social Security cards over the years. They do not have holograms or other features that deter their fraudulent use.

"If it feels real and looks like something they've seen before, its awfully difficult to say it's not legally genuine," Tsai said. 

Utah law requires employers with 15 or more employees to participate in the federal E-Verify system but the law has no penalties for noncompliance. A bill to give the law teeth died during the 2012 Legislature.

The system compares an employee's I-9 information against Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration databases. It is provided free to employers.

Under federal law, use of E-Verify is voluntary, except for employers with federal contracts.

The system is not foolproof because job seekers can present stolen documents that are real or authentic looking fakes that contain information of people who are eligible to work in the United States, Tsai said.

Some people believe the system will not more fully detect fraudulent use of documents or identities until the system also includes photographs and fingerprints collected by states' driver license agencies. Thus far, only Mississippi has made its photo database available to federal agencies.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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