Management at a popular French bistro and catering business in La Jolla kept employees after learning their names did not match Social Security numbers according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday.
Workers at The French Gourmet Inc. were allegedly paid cash until submitting new Social Security numbers.
The indictment charges owner Michel Malécot and manager Richard Kauffmann with felony counts of harboring illegal aliens and falsifying documents.
Eugene Iredale, an attorney for the restaurant and Malécot , said the government's guidance to employers is extremely confusing on how to respond to notices of mismatches in Social Security numbers.
“It’s hard for French Gourmet to comply with the laws and provisions. They are contradictory and difficult to understand. It’s a confusing piece of legislation,” Iredale said.
The indictment stems from the arrests of 18 employees in May 2008.
“Employers have a responsibility for maintaining the integrity of their workforce and those who fail to do so will face serious consequences,” said Mike Carney, Acting Special Agent in Charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations in San Diego.
“This indictment shows ICE’s commitment to holding businesses accountable when they repeatedly ignore immigration laws relating to their workforce," Carney said. "The goal of our enforcement efforts is two-fold, first to reduce the demand for illegal employment and, second, to protect job opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce.”
Malécot and Kauffmann face a maximum of five years in prison per count, a $250,000 fine per count, and three years of supervised release.
“It’s just a shame that the government decided to indict French Gourmet. They are one of the best corporate citizens," Iredale said. "They have provided charity to many organizations over the years. We have plead ‘not guilty’ and plan to contest the charges vigorously.”
A motion hearing is scheduled for May 3, at 2:00 p.m. before Judge Thomas J. Whelan.