SAN DIEGO–The owner and manager of a La Jolla bakery pleaded guilty Oct. 14 to a longtime practice of hiring undocumented workers following a four-year probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
At a hearing in federal court, The French Gourmet, Inc., along with Michel Malecot, 59, the business owner and president, and Richard Kauffmann, 58, the bakery’s manager, pleaded guilty to the felony offense of hiring at least 10 individuals from 2006 to 2007. The defendants also admitted employing the workers as early as 2003, despite being fined in the 1990s by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for employing undocumented workers.
“These guilty pleas show our commitment to holding employers accountable,” said Derek Benner, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in San Diego. “HSI will continue to investigate employers who build their business model on exploiting illegal alien labor. Our goal is to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation’s lawful workforce.”
In pleading guilty, the company and Kauffman admitted they repeatedly rehired the worker, even after the company received “no-match” letters from the Social Security Administration advising employees’ names did not match the Social Security numbers reported by the company on its tax returns.
Malecot also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to continuing to employ undocumented workers. Malecot admitted that 91 people were employed unlawfully at the French Gourmet between 2005 and 2008, and that he knew at least seven of those individuals were not authorized to work in the United States.
In conjunction with the guilty pleas, The French Gourmet and Malecot agreed to forfeit the illicit proceeds gained from the bakery’s illegal hiring practices. Although the total financial penalty is expected to be between $350,000 and $650,000, the exact amount of the forfeiture and fine will be determined by U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan at a sentencing hearing December 19.
Kauffmann faces a maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. Malecot faces a maximum of six months in custody and a fine of $3,000 per undocumented worker.