The human resources manager for Universial Industrial Sales Inc. pleaded not guilty today in federal court to charges of harboring illegal aliens.
Alejandro Alex Urrutia-Garcia, 39, of Provo, faces two counts of encouraging illegal aliens to remain in the United States unlawfully. The charges each carry up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 fines, if convicted.
The indictment was one of two unsealed today in U.S. District Court on the heels of an immigration raid that netted more than 50 arrests at the Lindon manufacturing plant.
The company is charged with 10 counts of harboring aliens between January 2003 to December 2006 for "commercial advantage," and faces $500,000 in fines, or twice the amount of any pecuniary gains, for each count.
U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman, said the investigation, which utilized confidental informants and undercover agents, was still ongoing.
"It's hard to say who knew, neccessarily what," Tolman said. "There may be others."
Tolman said the charges stem from his office's effort to target employers who are "willfully blind" to their workers' immigration statuses, "especially to gain some economic advantage on their competitors."
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah, Urrutia-Garcia is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He was released from prison Thursday, pending a hearing scheduled for Tuesday. A four-day trial was scheduled to start April 14.
Telephone messages left at Universal were not returned. The Lindon-based company employs more than 100 individuals, according to its Web site. It manufactures a variety of highway products, such as guard rails, bridge rails and sign structures.
Late Thursday morning, family members and friends of the arrested employees trickled in, hoping for details about what happened.
Elias Villalpando, 27, worked for UIS for five years, but quit three years ago.
Standing in the snow, he said he knows many employees there who are good, hard working people just trying to make a living.
"They have to do something to bring food for their families," he said. He said that many of the men arrested were from Jalisco, Mexico.
Tony Yapias, director of Proyecto Latino de Utah, did numerous interviews outside the company's headquarters, including a phone interview with a Spanish-language radio station.
"We ask for calm in our community," he said in Spanish. "It's important that there is not panic in our community."
"Right now, they're all scared," he said after the interview. On his drive to Lindon from Salt Lake City, Yapias said, he received nearly 50 phone calls from family members of the affected employees.
A community meeting is planned tonight for those families and friends at 7 at Orem's St. Francis Catholic Church. The event will follow mass.
"Today's action should send a clear message to employers in Utah," said Tolman. "We expect employers to comply with immigration laws in hiring employees. Failure to comply with these laws hampers our ability to address illegal immigration issues."
Tolman said his office understands that those taken into custody may have families. He said they will show compassion for those involved.
The workers detained Thursday were being interviewed, photographed, fingerprinted and processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, said agency spokesman Greg Palmore. There are no federal arrest warrants or criminal charges associated with the workers at this time. They were to be held at the Weber and Utah county jails.
"It's a long methodical process we go through," said Palmore.The worksite enforcement effort involved 100 immigration agents, in cooperation with state and local police, he said. ICE is also coordinating with agencies, such as the Utah Health and Human Rights Project and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services.