Migrant workers advocate sentenced

Posted Feb. 03, 2011, at 10:32 p.m.
Benjamin J. Guiliani Sr. (right) of South Portland and his attorney, Bruce Merrill, leave U.S. District Court in Bangor. Guiliani pleaded guilty to five charges that include transporting and harboring illegal aliens.
Benjamin J. Guiliani Sr. (right) of South Portland and his attorney, Bruce Merrill, leave U.S. District Court in Bangor. Guiliani pleaded guilty to five charges that include transporting and harboring illegal aliens.

BANGOR, Maine — A South Portland man hailed in the State House, the U.S. Senate and the White House for his work with immigrants was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court to 19 months in prison for transporting and harboring illegal aliens, tax evasion, Social Security fraud, failure to file tax returns and fraudulently obtaining financial aid for his college-age son.

ha, 63, is a Mexican-American born in El Paso, Texas, who has lived in Maine for about 30 years and earned a reputation in the 1990s as a leading voice for the ethical treatment of migrant workers. Guiliani was lauded for his advocacy on behalf of workers at the former DeCoster Egg Farms in Turner.

“In this courtroom, it is unusual to see such stark contradictions in the same human being,” U.S. District Judge John Woodcock told Guiliani shortly before imposing the sentence. “On the one hand you protested the experiences of immigrant workers. On the other hand, you have exploited them.

“On the one hand, you have lobbied the state and federal governments acting on behalf of immigrants,” the judge continued. “On the other hand, you failed to pay taxes to pay to support programs to help them.”

In addition to jail time, Woodcock sentenced Guiliani to three years of supervised release after he completes his prison term. He also ordered him to pay a total of more than $230,500 in restitution — $214,000 to the Internal Revenue Service, nearly $15,000 to the U.S. Department of Education and $1,500 to the Maine Department of Education.

Guiliani remains free on personal recognizance bail. He was ordered to report to federal prison on April 8.

“First and foremost, I humbly stand before you and take full responsibility,” Guiliani told Woodcock. “I want to apologize to this court, the government agencies and their staff involved in the investigations. I am asking for mercy. In Maine, I have mostly been of help to others.”

The defendant served as executive director of the Maine Migrant Workers’ Advocate Group, which he founded in 1997. In 2003, after 14 Hispanic brush cutters died in a 15-passenger van accident, Guiliani was hired by Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co. to translate a van safety course and supervisor training manuals into Spanish for drivers of the large vans, according to previously published reports.

He was invited to the White House in January 2004 by then-President George W. Bush when the president announced his formation of the Guest Worker Program, aimed at allowing U.S. companies to sponsor non-U.S. citizens as laborers for up to three years, according to court documents. Guiliani also was nominated in October 2005 by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe to the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Conference.

His last high-profile appearance as an advocate was in April 2005 when Guiliani and other Hispanics living in Maine presented Gov. John Baldacci with a United Farm Workers union flag and a sombrero decorated with the Mexican flag’s red, green and white in recognition of the governor’s support for their causes, The Associated Press reported. Twenty months later, federal authorities raided his South Portland home and office.

Guiliani founded Azteca Consulting Associates Inc. nine years ago. He was the sole employee of the South Portland business, which provided workers to potato processors in Fort Fairfield and Belfast, lumber companies in Searsmont and Bingham, a resort in Casco, a pallet producer in Livermore Falls and a country club in Augusta, according to documents. In addition to labor contracting services, Azteca also provided consulting services for an egg processor and an insurance company.

The investigation that led to the charges against Guiliani began in September 2004 when five illegal aliens were arrested in Fort Fairfield working for a potato processor, according to the prosecution version of the offense to which Guiliani pleaded guilty. The men said they met Guiliani in a park in Chelsea, Mass., and he offered to help them find work in Maine.

When the men, who are not identified in court documents, told Guiliani they did not have good documents, the South Portland man told them that it did not matter. Guiliani pleaded guilty last year to providing one of the men with a false Social Security number.

Guiliani charged the potato processor, who is not named in court documents, more than $3,000 in finder’s fees, transportation and other expenses. When investigators subpoenaed documents from the firm to which Guiliani had supplied other workers, they found that more than half of them did not have valid documents, according to court documents.

By pleading guilty to the charges, Guiliani also admitted that he did not file federal tax returns from 2002 through 2005. He also said that he lied about his income when his youngest son applied for and received financial aid for the school years 2005-2006 and 2006-2007, according to court documents.

He faced a maximum of 10 years in federal prison on the charge of transporting and harboring aliens, up to five years for the charges of Social Security fraud, tax evasion and student assistance fraud, and up to a year in prison on the charge of failure to file tax returns. The potential fines in the case ranged from $100,000 to $250,000.

Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines, Guiliani faced between 27 and 33 months in federal prison. The fine range under the guidelines was between $6,000 and $60,000.

U.S. Attorney Nancy Torresen recommended the sentence Woodcock imposed. Guiliani’s attorney, Bruce Merrill of Portland, urged the judge to sentence Guiliani to a year and a day.

Woodcock said he did not impose a fine to allow Guiliani to pay restitution instead.

jharrison@bangordailynews.com

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