Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chipotle Under Criminal Investigation

The result will be a large, but payable fine, just as Wal Mart escaped with a miniscure fine of $11 million.

The federal government has begun a criminal investigation into whether Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. has knowingly hired illegal immigrants at its restaurants, a person familiar with the matter said.

The criminal division of the U.S. Attorney office for Washington, D.C., wrote the burrito chain April 13 seeking documents related to hiring, the person familiar with the matter said. The company recently fired 40 employees at two Washington, D.C., restaurants who allegedly submitted false documents related to their eligibility to work in the U.S., this person said.

It wasn't immediately clear which Chipotle restaurants the document request applied to, or how wide the inquiry is aimed, the person said.

Monty Moran, Chipotle's co-CEO, said the Denver-based chain is "not fully aware of the specific details about how these agencies do their work" but "we will continue to work closely with government officials to answer their questions."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has for several months been investigating Chipotle restaurants in Minnesota, Virginia and Washington, D.C. After the Denver-based chain of 1,092 U.S. restaurants received its first-ever ICE inspection notice late last year, Chipotle fired hundreds of workers who had submitted false documents.

Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., declined to comment on specific cases but said his office routinely works with ICE and other federal agencies.

Chipotle is now installing various new procedures for verifying employees' immigration status, Mr. Moran, the co-CEO, said. "We believe our plan will address (ICE's) concerns," he said. "We are working now to roll out those enhancements."

The Chipotle inquiry is part of a government crackdown on businesses suspected of hiring illegal immigrants. Last week, three McDonald's Corp. restaurant managers in Savannah, Ga., were charged with selling to prospective employees identities stolen from U.S. citizens.

Some state and federal lawmakers want to require all U.S. companies to use E-Verify, a government-run electronic database, to verify whether employees are eligible to work in this country. Arizona, Utah and South Carolina currently require employers to use the database.

In mid-February, Chipotle began rolling out E-Verify to restaurants nationwide. It's now in use at all of Chipotle's U.S. restaurants. Previously, Chipotle has relied on employees to fill out I-9 forms containing their identity information, had the hiring manager review the I-9s and supporting documentation, and then had someone from human resources review them a second time.

To further bolster its verification efforts, Chipotle is installing a paperless process for submitting I-9 forms that's supposed to reduce errors, and is hiring dedicated I-9 specialists to perform the second level of review of the documents, in place of general human-resources staff, said the person familiar with the matter.

The company also plans to invite ICE experts to train Chipotle employees on how to identify fraudulent identification documents.

And, still, no illegal aliens have been or will be deported. The fix is in, companies only react to ICE investigations, they continue with their hiring patterns until caught. Small fines are no deterence, nor are criminal investigations unless high level corporate officials go to jail. That just doesn't happen. The only way is to arrest and remove the illegal aliens and their families. The border fence must be built, double or triple layer, not just in Arizona and California, but along the Rio Grande in Texas, where illegals still flood in.

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