Appellate Court Upholds Business Owner's Conviction for Hiring Illegal Aliens

October 29, 2007 ( - A federal appellate court has upheld the felony convictions and prison terms for a Florida business owner and his accountant who had been accused of encouraging illegal immigrants to stay in the country as the employer's workers.

The 11 th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned aside arguments by defendants Saleem Khanani and David Portlock that U.S. District Judge John Antoon II did not properly instruct the jury about the legal severity of the crime of employing illegal aliens.

Khanani and Portlock argued to the appellate court that the jury should have been told the employment of illegal immigrants does not constitute encouragement or harboring those immigrants to stay in the country and that merely giving the immigrants a job should have been a criminal misdemeanor instead of a felony

Khanani was the part owner of a group of retail stores while Portlock was an accountant who worked as Khanani’s comptroller.

After a trial both defendants were convicted on charges of:

  • knowingly encouraging and inducing illegal immigrants to live in the United States.
  • participating in a conspiracy to conceal, harbor and shield these workers from detection.
  • mailing and e-mailing fraudulent state and federal tax forms.
  • participating in a conspiracy to launder the proceeds of crimes.
  • evading federal employment and income taxes.

Antoon sentenced Khanani to a 70-month jail term followed by two years of supervised release while Portlock received a 48-month sentence followed by two years of supervised release.

Circuit Judge Stanley F. Birch, Jr., writing for the appellate court, said the government had proven its case.

“Testimony further established that the defendants created a work environment that was well known in the alien community as being open to and safe for workers not authorized to work in the United States,” Birch wrote. “Moreover, the evidence established that defendants had shielded their unauthorized workforce from detection, by alerting the aliens to the presence of immigration officials in the stores, by instructing workers not to wear name tags, and by sending them home or to other locations undetected. Unauthorized aliens enjoyed housing assistance as well. Numerous aliens testified that their employment with defendants’ companies helped them continue to reside in the United States.”

The judgment in the case is  here .