Friday, December 01, 2006

Romanian sentenced for harboring, transporting illegal immigrants

BY DAVE KOLPACK
Associated Press

A Romanian citizen who failed to answer questions during his last court appearance has pleaded guilty to running an illegal employment scheme in North Dakota and other states, including Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Robert Porcisanu, 28, was sentenced Thursday to 1½ years in prison and ordered to forfeit $1.5 million for harboring and transporting illegal immigrants. He decided to offer the plea during a status hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson.

"Robert was interested in moving it forward," said defense attorney Robert Ratliff, of Mobile, Ala. "The case has really kind of languished for several months. Everybody had all the information in front of them."

U.S. Magistrate Karen Klein had ordered a mental evaluation for Porcisanu after he didn't respond to questions at an arraignment in May.

"That was part of the delay," Ratliff said. "He's doing fine now. I think just the stress of facing criminal prosecution and the uncertainty of that really had a negative impact."

Authorities said Porcisanu operated a construction subcontracting business in Franklin, Ind., that used mostly illegal immigrants to perform stucco work. He was able to undercut the bids of other competitors by taking advantage of cheap labor costs, prosecutors said.

Porcisanu had construction sites in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, authorities said.

"It was an enormous undertaking," Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Chase said. "This is someone who did business with hundreds of contractors. It's significant for us to be able to deter and take away the economic incentive to hire illegal workers."

Authorities said Porcisanu used a fraudulent immigrant visa to obtain a Social Security number and start his construction company. His real name is Julian Jijie.

The investigation started after the North Dakota Highway Patrol stopped four illegal laborers outside Fargo in October 2005. They had been working on a Wal-Mart store in Dickinson. None of them could speak English.

Porcisanu originally was charged with money laundering, making false statements, conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and conspiracy to transport illegal aliens. He faced a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.

"I think it was a fair resolution," Ratliff said. "The amount of money forfeited by Mr. Porcisanu was staggering, but the prison sentence was on the low end of the guideline range."

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