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Florida couple pleads guilty to harboring illegal immigrants

A 43-year-old man and 44-year-old woman have pleaded guilty to harboring illegal immigrants in their Jacksonville home, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida. The immigrants stayed at the home so they could work at the married couple's Japanese restaurant.

Authorities said that Homeland Security Investigations agents discovered the illegal immigrants when they visited the couple's residence on July 6 regarding an unrelated immigration case. Upon entering the property, the agents found that the home's dining room had been converted into a bedroom with mattresses placed on the floor. The agents then discovered that most of the people living at the home were citizens of Indonesia or Guatemala and living in the U.S. illegally. They further discovered that the immigrants were all employed at the couple's local steakhouse and sushi lounge.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, the defendants failed to complete the required Enforcement Employment Eligibility Verification Form for the immigrants. They also paid the workers in cash and failed to withhold taxes and other government payments from their wages. The defendants face up to 10 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been announced.

Federal crimes, such as harboring or transporting illegal aliens, carry harsh penalties for those who are convicted. Possible penalties include incarceration in a federal prison and heavy fines. Individuals facing such charges may be able to avoid conviction by retaining a criminal defense attorney immediately upon arrest. If the defendant intends to fight the charges, a lawyer could mount a strong defense against the prosecution's case. If the defendant intends to plead guilty, an attorney could negotiate a plea deal that reduces the charges.

Source: News 4 JAX, "Restaurant owners accused of harboring illegal immigrants plead guilty," Nov. 9, 2017

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