By: Bruce E. Buchanan, Sebelist Buchanan Law

Jamie Harrington III, the owner of Capt. Phip’s Seafood Inc., was sentenced to one year of probation, will pay $15,000 in fines and assessments, and perform 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to the unlawful employment of 89 undocumented workers and H-2B visa fraud related to the employment of approximately 142 temporary workers. Additionally, Capt. Phip’s, which is engaged in the production and distribution of ice as well as the processing of seafood, was sentenced to three years of probation and to pay a $240,000 fine for H-2B visa fraud "to the employment of temporary workers employed at Harrington companies." Harrington and Captain Phip’s were also ordered to participate in a verification program for their employees and were debarred from participating in the H-2B visa program.

For years, Capt. Phip’s participated in the H-2B work visa program, obtaining temporary foreign workers to fill seasonal positions. From 2013 through 2018, Captain Phip’s filed for prevailing wage determinations for multiple job descriptions, and then filed petitions for H-2B visas for 142 nonimmigrant workers, using the lowest prevailing wage, regardless of the actual work duties of the employees.

As stated in the plea agreement, Captain Phip’s willfully submitted false and inaccurate job descriptions to obtain lower prevailing wages for its foreign workers. These omissions resulted in the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) setting lower prevailing wages than it would have been authorized if Capt. Phip’s had provided truthful information.

As stated in the company’s plea agreement, on August 31, 2017, a USCIS officer and government agents conducted a site visit at Capt. Phip’s location in Secretary, Maryland. At that time, Capt. Phip’s H-2B workers were authorized only to engage in oyster production work. During the site visit, three H-2B visa beneficiaries were interviewed and stated their current duties involved ice packing duties, not oyster production work. Company officials also admitted that all of Capt. Phip’s H-2B workers were packing ice, and none of them were currently processing any oysters. The workers’ 2017 H-2B visas only permitted them to work in oyster processing.

During the August 31, 2017 interview, Jaime Harrington stated he was also the President of Easton Ice Company, Inc. (“Easton Ice”). The principal office for Easton Ice is the same physical address as Capt. Phip’s premises in Secretary, Maryland. A subsequent interview of an H-2B visa recipient filed by Capt. Phip’s for 2017, when the H-2B workers were only authorized for oyster processing, revealed their duties that season were to drive a truck and deliver ice. In September 2017, an agent observed this person driving a truck bearing the name “Easton Ice.” The agent also saw another Capt. Phip’s H-2B recipient delivering ice and riding in the truck. Easton Ice did not apply for H-2B visas in 2017, and workers with H-2B visas obtained through Capt. Phips were not authorized to work for Easton Ice.

On August 9, 2018, government agents interviewed Jamie Harrington at Capt. Phip’s premises in Secretary, Maryland. Jamie Harrington admitted that the company was not in compliance with the requirements of the H-2B visa program and that some of Capt. Phip’s H-2B workers were driving trucks or performing other duties outside the scope of their visas, including performing work for other companies controlled by Philip and Jamie Harrington, including Easton Ice, Woodfield Ice, as well as two Ocean City, Maryland, motels owned by members of the Harrington family.

Additionally, Harrington admitted in his plea agreement that, beginning in 2013 and continuing through at least August 9, 2018, he engaged in a pattern and practice of hiring and employing workers without lawful immigration status at the Harrington Companies. Some of the undocumented workers hired and employed entered the United States lawfully and overstayed their visas, while others never had lawful status to be present in the United States.

This case is an example of the illegal abuse that many companies engage in while employing H-2B visa temporary workers and undocumented workers. The H-2B visa program can be advantageous for employers if run correctly. But it truly needs to be expanded to allow more of its use in the modern working world where so many employers are desperate for temporary workers.

If you want to know more information on issues related to employer immigration compliance, I recommend you read The I-9 and E-Verify Handbook, a book I co-authored with Greg Siskind, and available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0997083379.