Illegal immigrants on Kent project cost contractor’s job


The Province is planned to start housing Kent State students for the fall 2012 semester. Photo by Matt Hafley.

Kyle McDonald

A contractor providing carpentry work on one of Kent’s private student housing developments has been pulled off the job following a discovery that 23 crew members are illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Brimfield police arrested Anthony Henry of Arab, Ala., last week at a Brimfield hotel for allegedly making methamphetamine. Through questioning, police discovered the illegal immigrants, who were part of the 25-member crew overseen by Henry and working to construct The Province, a 595-bed apartment complex currently in construction on South Lincoln Street.

Larry DePriest, purchasing manager for Edwards Communities Development Co., the developer overseeing the project, said the Alabama-based subcontractor was immediately pulled from the site following the discovery and has since been replaced. Edwards Communities requires all of its contracted workers ensure their hires be of legal status, he said.

“They breached the contract and they were terminated and off the site,” DePriest said. This is the first incident of this nature for the Columbus-based Edwards Communities, he said.

Bridget Susel, Kent interim community development director, asked Edwards Communities for a list of all subcontractors working on The Province following the discovery of the immigrants.

She said there are 62 subcontractors working under Edwards Communities. Most of them deliver materials and most of the laborers are from Ohio.

Susel said Waite’s Construction LLC, the Alabama company terminated from the project, was one of three carpentry subcontractors and the only from outside of Northeastern Ohio.

None of the workers had or will receive a paycheck, either, DePriest said. They were on site for about two weeks, which wasn’t enough time to be paid.

Councilman Robin Turner said he wants to know if Kent can better track who is working on projects in the city to ensure a quality workforce and that proper income tax revenues are being collected.

DePriest said Edwards Communities does run checks on the financial stability of its bidders, but said it’s “virtually impossible” to provide oversight of everyone employed by its contractors.

In this case, the workers were discovered before they could even be paid, but Turner questioned whether a private subcontractor paying low wages or hiring illegal immigrants would fully comply with state and local income tax requirements.

“They could have been here three months,” Turner said. “What ability do we have to track what’s being done?”

Turner said there should be more oversight on both developers’ and the city’s end.

“We don’t want to be too burdensome, but we do have an oversight responsibility,” he said.

Turner said the city and city council have discussed how to track income tax collections from subcontracted construction companies, which can come from all over the country, but he doesn’t think the question has been answered with full clarity.

Brimfield Police Chief David Oliver said Henry remains jailed, but that police had to let the illegal immigrants go because of a lack of interest from the federal level.

Oliver said Immigration and Naturalization Services and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have to issue a detaining order for the police to keep illegal immigrants in custody.

ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said the department, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, received the information from Brimfield police, but is not taking any action.

“Upon further review, ICE has determined that these individuals do not fall under ICE’s enforcement priorities,” Walls said in a statement. “ICE is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have been previously removed from the United States.”

Oliver said Brimfield police have encountered illegal immigrants working on building projects in the past, but it has never generated enough interest for the federal government to take action.

“We’re very quick to call anybody that we can get a hold of and hold (the immigrants),” Oliver said. “We can’t get anyone interested who has the authority to act on it.”

Kyle McDonald is a staff writer for the Record Courier.