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Firm's owner gets 10 months for hiring illegal immigrants

Rick M. Vartanian told officials that unauthorized workers identified in an earlier audit were no longer with Brownwood Furniture of Rancho Cucamonga. In fact, 18 still were.

March 09, 2011|By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times

A Rancho Cucamonga furniture company owner was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, federal officials said Tuesday.

Rick M. Vartanian, 57, of Ladera Ranch had been convicted of obstruction of justice and employing illegal immigrants at his company, Brownwood Furniture.

Along with the prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Gary Fees on Monday ordered Vartanian to pay a $15,000 fine.

In November 2009, officials said, Vartanian told investigators with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that unauthorized workers identified during an earlier audit were no longer employed by the company.

In fact, Vartanian had kept 18 of those workers on his payroll and was concealing their employment, according to federal officials, who said the investigation began when the immigration agency received an anonymous tip that Brownwood Furniture had hired the illegal workers.

A federal audit of the company's personnel in 2009 found that 61 of the firm's 73 employees had submitted invalid documents to obtain their jobs, officials said.

"As these sentences make clear, employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers face serious consequences," Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE Homeland Security investigations in Los Angeles, said in a statement.

Brownwood Furniture's vice president, Michael Patrick Eberly, 48, of Alta Loma, also pleaded guilty to one count of employing unauthorized workers.

He was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

In 2009, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano directed immigration officials to focus their worksite enforcement resources on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. In fiscal year 2010, a record 180 business owners, employers and managers were charged with illegal hiring, up from 114 in fiscal 2009 and 135 the previous year.

Also in fiscal 2010, immigration officials conducted more than 2,200 employer audits, up from more than 1,400 in fiscal 2009.

phil.willon@latimes.com

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