Danny Hendon, owner of the embattled Danny's Family Car Wash chain and a longtime supporter of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, pleaded guilty today in federal court to identity fraud, the Associated Press is reporting.
Several business entities under the DFC umbrella are scheduled for change of plea hearings today in related charges.
You may recall that in August of last year, 16 Danny's locations were raided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During that massive operation, 223 persons were taken into custody, with most eventually being released.
Thirty were held on immigration violations, and 14 were criminally charged in "a conspiracy to employ unauthorized aliens," as described by the indictment.
Hendon was not indicted at that time, but several of his managers were and have since pleaded guilty.
The federal indictment alleged that a 2010 federal audit of the company found that 942 out of 1,912 employees, nearly half the workforce, had not provided proper paperwork at the time they were hired.
DFC's general counsel later "submitted a signed certification letter to federal authorities indicating that as of April 23, 2011, DFC had terminated the employment of all 942 employees listed," according to the indictment.
But the feds say DFC turned right around and re-hired many of the employees it had axed.
The indictment states:
"Soon after 'terminating' the unauthorized employees in April 2011, DFC began rehiring many of the same individuals under new identities.
"In many instances, DFC's managers affirmatively assisted the employees in procuring identification documents and other personal identifiers that belonged to third parties (e.g., supplying employees with names, social security cards and numbers, and/or driver's licenses that belonged to others) to facilitate the rehiring."
At the time of the ICE raid, many in the pro-immigrant community were critical of ICE because Hendon had not been charged.
The AP reports that Hendon is scheduled to be sentenced October 20.
What interests me is that over the last several years, Sheriff Joe Arpaio's boys in beige have raided 83 businesses, collaring hundreds of individuals suspected of working without papers on ID theft charges.
And yet, the MCSO's suspicion apparently has never fallen upon a business that just happens to be a major booster of the MCSO Memorial Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity, which is affiliated with the MCSO's Adevisory Posse and benefits the families of injured and fallen deputies.
DFC is listed on the fund's website as a sponsor, and the company has held several charity car wash events over the years to benefit the fund.
Arpaio has attended some these himself, as is evidenced by a small photo of him and others on the memorial fund's site. The site also features photo galleries of some of the fundraisers that DFC's has done for the MCSO.
The galleries show both DFC employees and MCSO officers washing cars for the cause.
To be fair, DFC has done fundraisers for other local law enforcement agencies. But then, none of those agencies regularly raids businesses for hiring undocumented workers.
Also, Arpaio is not above using the power of his office to reward those who support him, and punish those who do not.
Indeed, in a recent column, I spoke with former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton, who alleged that the MCSO went after his client Bret Frimmel, owner of the local Uncle Sams restaurants, after it learned that Frimmel had been approached by the U.S. Department of Justice. This, following a raid on his restaurants in July of last year.
The corruption runs deeper, of course. One of the deputies involved in such raids was Ramon Charley Armendariz, who allegedly committed suicide May 8 and is the subject of criminal investigation by the MCSO (cue laughter here).
Armendariz, once a member of the MCSO's Human Smuggling Unit, is suspected of shaking down undocumented individuals. Before his death, he alleged that his superiors at the MCSO were involved in "illegal activity," according to local activist Lydia Guzman.
That investigation is being monitored in part by Arpaio's babysitter, Robert Warshaw, the former judge appointed by the federal court to ensure Arpaio's compliance in the ACLU's big civil rights case, Melendres v. Arpaio.
Shakedowns, looking the other way at wrongdoing, intimidation under the color of law -- that's Arpaio's MCSO. Those who snuggle up to it may escape Arpaio's wrath, but as Hendon's case shows, that doesn't mean they will escape justice.
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