Husband's Name Stays "Clean" in Migrant-Hiring Conviction

Jamie Votaw, co-owner of a cleaning company that hired undocumented immigrants in the 2000s, was sentenced last week in federal court to five years of probation and ordered to pay $250,000 in restitution.

Court records show that her husband, Joel Votaw, the company's CEO, was equally culpable for the crime. But a deal cut with the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office allows Joel Votaw's name to stay off paperwork for the criminal case and forfeiture order — apparently so his name can continue to be used to secure sensitive government work for the company.

After Valley View Building Services'  Phoenix office was raided by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office in 2010, it was revealed that one of the undocumented-worker suspects had cleaned offices at Fort Huachuca, home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. No evidence ever turned up of any security breaches; the worker and four other suspects later were deported.

Corporate records show that Joel Votaw took office as CEO of the company in 1997, while his wife became vice president in 2004. (The company's website, though, says they co-founded the company in 1997.)

Valley View specializes in cleaning Mormon temples and churches but also has a long client list that includes some of the Valley's top construction companies and large office buildings.

In an April plea deal, Jamie Votaw wrote that she, "along with my husband," hired undocumented immigrants and that "during this time, we received business revenue from the venture associated with the labor provided by the unlawfully employed aliens, in excess of $250,000." Her June 17 criminal judgment paperwork states that "non-defendant" Joel Votaw must pay $50,000 jointly and severally with her and the company, because of the misdemeanor conviction. Jamie Votaw has to comply with all the other probation terms, like reporting regularly to a probation officer.

When we reported on the $250,000 forfeiture order order in March, we talked to Joel Votaw and asked him why his name wasn't listed in the federal case. He said the arrangement allows his name to check as "totally clean," which allows the company to continue to work on sensitive projects.

Votaw said his company had spent about $300,000 in the past few years to battle the federal government over the case. As our previous article stated:

Votaw insists his company did most everything right in its hiring practices, and even used E-Verify. As he sees it, the problem boils down to an order from the feds to fire about 10 percent of his workforce within two weeks. Those were key workers, he explains, and it really hurt Valley View.

The company's solution was to hire the same people back as subcontractors.

"We were like, 'crap,' we need these people," he says. "We did that for about a month and a half" before their lawyer advised them to stop.

Even though the Votaws admitted to the problem up front, the feds "started harassing us with other charges," he says.

After the publication of our March 23 article, Joel Votaw contacted New Times over concerns about the article. He asked to retract his statements but didn't indicate that anything about the article was inaccurate. He sent New Times the following statement, which we'll reprint for him here: 

Joel Votaw wishes to retract any state      ments made, either printed or not, from the article written on March 23rd, 2015 by the Phoenix New Times Publication. These statements were not what was intended to be conveyed and were presented in a contradictory way to the actual factual basis of this case which is as follows:

Beginning in approximately November of 2008, Valley View Building Services, LLC, employed persons who they knew were not authorized to work in the United States. They continued to employ unauthorized aliens after receiving confirming information that specific employees at the company were unauthorized. The practice of hiring and continuing to employ these persons continued to approximately November of 2010. During this time, the company received business revenue from the ventures associated with this labor in excess of $250,000.00.

Valley View has come to an agreement with the United States government after almost 5 years of negotiations. From this agreement, Valley View and one owner have agreed to a monetary forfeiture and will plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Valley View has worked diligently with the United States government for the past 5 years and are looking forward to putting this behind them and continuing to build their business while fully complying with current immigration regulations.

New Times didn't retract anything from the previous article. 

Last week, New Times asked the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office for comment about Joel Votaw's explanation for why his name was kept out of the case. The office had previously declined comment to New Times about the matter. Told that we were preparing to publish a new article about the name game and asked again for some explanation, spokesman Dominic Lanza wrote, "We do not care to comment on the proposed story."

Transparency, accountability — themes of a different article, it seems.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.