The owners of a Heights tortilla factory that was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in August are now facing federal charges for allegedly hiring undocumented workers.
According to the indictment filed in federal court on Monday, Alfredo Lira and Lydia Botello-Lira, co-owners of La Espiga De Oro on West 15th Street, repeatedly, knowingly hired workers without legal documentation, including two confidential informants posing as undocumented workers.
ICE began its investigation in 2011 after receiving three tips between 2008 and 2010 from people who claimed to be employees at La Espiga, alleging the owners were hiring undocumented workers. Over the course of three years, ICE sent two separate confidential informants posing as undocumented immigrants to infiltrate the company. Both were hired, and according to the indictment, they were encouraged by the owners to get counterfeit documentation, including fake social security cards. The informants found many of the factory's employees were also undocumented.
When ICE officers raided the factory in August last year, 11 undocumented workers were rounded up and detained before being released. ICE spokesman Greg Palmore told us in August that no deportation orders were issued to the workers, who were given authorization by ICE to work legitimately in the United States while being retained as witnesses.
"Generally, when we go into facilities like this, we're concerned with unsafe working conditions," Palmore said in August. "We often encounter unsafe conditions and an egregious amount of unreported workplace injuries in places known to hire illegal aliens."
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According to the indictment, one undocumented worker lost three fingers in a workplace accident, and she was allegedly paid $30,000 by La Espiga and signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of the settlement. There were no other workplace injuries or unsafe working conditions mentioned in the indictment.
After the ICE raid in August, both owners allegedly told investigators that about half of the employees at La Espiga were undocumented. In October, ICE reviewed 105 personnel documents seized during the raid and found 65 current employees with either "suspect work authorization documents" or no documents at all. All 65 were later confirmed to be undocumented immigrants.
La Espiga managers Roberto Guerra and Lydia Lira were also charged in the indictment, which you can read here: