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Date: 07-21-2023

Case Style:

United States of America v. Davey Tree Experts Company and Wolf Tree, Inc.

Case Number:

Judge: Unassigned

Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia (Chatham County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office in Savannah

Defendant's Attorney:

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Description: Savannah, Georgia civil litigation lawyers represented Defendants accused of illegal labor practices reported by a whistleblower who was murdered for revealing the scheme.

Davey Tree Expert Company, of Ohio, and its subsidiary, Wolf Tree, Inc., entered into a non-prosecution and settlement agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to resolve criminal and civil claims stemming from immigration and employment violations.

“Eliud Montoya attempted to expose a scheme where his employer and supervisors profited from the use of unauthorized laborers,” said U.S. Attorney Jill E. Steinberg. “His killers have been convicted and sentenced for their crimes, and this settlement holds the corporate entities financially accountable.”

The terms of the settlement with Davey Tree and Wolf Tree require a payment of $3,984,325.44 to the U.S. government to resolve all criminal and civil claims against the companies, which includes restitution to the victim’s estate for lost future income and to another employee for back wages. The settlement amount also includes forfeiture of $1,136,521.19 in payments from the companies’ contracts with Georgia Power, and a civil penalty of $1,500,000.

Pablo Rangel-Rubio and his brother, Juan Rangel-Rubio, along with Higinio Perez-Bravo, are citizens of Mexico illegally present in the United States. Pablo and Juan Rangel-Rubio were illegally employed at Wolf Tree, a company under contract to Georgia Power to trim trees along power line rights-of-way in the Savannah, Ga., area.

As determined at trial in October 2022, Pablo Rangel-Rubio, a supervisor at Wolf Tree, led a conspiracy to employ illegal aliens to work for the company, and provided those illegal aliens with assumed identities. The conspirators routed the workers’ paychecks to their own bank accounts where they skimmed a portion of the pay for themselves and paid the illegal aliens in cash to avoid detection. They also created fake employee accounts and directed that pay to themselves.

Eliud Montoya, also an employee of Wolf Tree, reported the illegal activity to the company and to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the conspirators shot and killed him near his home. The conspirators are serving federal prison sentences for their roles in Montoya’s murder

The companies allegedly conducted an audit of their employee files and determined that a percentage of their employees did not or could not provide sufficient documentation to demonstrate their authorization to be employed in the United States. The agreement resolves the government’s allegations that the companies unlawfully employed unauthorized workers and failed to verify their authorization status. The settled civil claims are allegations only and do not constitute admissions of liability by the settling parties.

“This labor exploitation scheme not only exploited our nation’s labor laws, but also led to the death of a whistleblower. Hopefully, the settlement sends a message to anyone involved in such activity that they will not go unpunished and that there is hope for anyone experiencing this horrible situation,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Travis Pickard, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Protecting the integrity of the nation’s immigration and labor laws from those looking to circumvent them is of vital importance and HSI prioritizes this mission.”

The investigation was led by Homeland Security Investigations. The United States was represented by Southern District of Georgia Assistant U.S. Attorneys, including AUSAs Tania D. Groover and Bradford C. Patrick.

Outcome: Settled for $4 million.

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