SPRINGFIELD — A Villa Grove roofer convicted of visa fraud and employing and harboring people who were living in the U.S. illegally to work for his Champaign-based business has been sentenced to three years in federal prison.
U.S. District Court Judge Sue Myerscough said Thursday she would recommend that Ed Gire, 47, serve his sentence in or near Pensacola, Fla., where he has been helping rebuild homes wiped out by an October hurricane that ravaged the Florida Panhandle.
Gire did not have to immediately turn himself in. Myerscough told him the Bureau of Prisons would contact him.
The judge also levied fines of $30,000 against Gire and $250,000 against Grayson Enterprises, a company owned by his fiancee, Kimberly Young. Myerscough put Grayson Enterprises on probation for three years.
Gire pleaded guilty in October 2017 to unlawfully employing people who were living in the U.S. illegally.
Following a bench trial in November 2017, Myerscough found Gire guilty of visa fraud and harboring people living here illegally. She also convicted Grayson Enterprises of the same offenses.
"I needed workers. I trusted the professionals who told me they could provide foreign workers," Gire said before Myerscough imposed the sentence. "I trusted a lawyer (who) I know now did not act according to law. I used bad judgment, and for that, I am deeply sorry."
The 90-minute hearing Thursday in Springfield brings to a close, for the time being, a criminal case that culminated in Gire and Grayson Enterprises being indicted in June 2016.
The charges stemmed from activity that occurred between 2011 and 2014. It involved Gire using the services of "promoters" to legally obtain visas to bring foreign workers to this country to do work for which U.S. workers are not available.
What's not entirely clear is what will happen to a building at 309 W. Hensley Road, C, formerly owned by Quick Leasing, a company for which Young was president. Grayson Enterprises leased that building. Young is also the president of Grayson Enterprises.
The judge entered a preliminary order that Gire and Grayson Enterprises forfeit their interests in the building to the government because it was found to be used by the roofing business to house the foreign workers.
However, that building was sold for $3.1 million to a trucking firm a year before Gire was indicted.
Reviewing the facts of what she heard at trial a year ago, Myerscough concluded that Gire faced between 41 and 51 months in prison and a fine up to $250,000 under federal sentencing guidelines.
She also noted that the guidelines are advisory and that she has the authority to sentence outside of them.
Although Gire had no prior convictions, Myerscough said he fell into a higher sentencing range because she believed he was aware that Young had supplied "materially false" testimony at trial about how the visa applications were prepared.
As Gire's fiancee, Young had a "powerful incentive to fabricate a story" on behalf of Gire and Grayson Enterprises, Myerscough said. The judge said she found no evidence that Gire coerced Young to lie but said he was aware of it.
Young did not appear at Thursday's sentencing.
As president of Grayson Enterprises, Young was represented by Springfield attorney Peter Wise, who entered the case after Myerscough had rendered her verdicts. Also coming in at that time on behalf of Gire was Urbana attorney Steve Beckett.
The veteran defense litigators were left to sort out the trial strategy employed by Chicago attorney Andrew Devooght, who represented both Gire and Grayson Enterprises, and to minimize the sentences for their respective clients.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller argued for the 51 months behind bars for Gire and a fine of $1.25 million for Grayson Enterprises.
Miller said the roofer was "both exploiting a legal immigration system that exists in the U.S. ... and exploiting illegal aliens in this country."
At trial, the government had presented evidence that in four different applications to the Department of Homeland Security for H-2B visas, which allow foreign workers to fill jobs that can't be filled with U.S. labor, Gire submitted contracts that said he had work lined up when he had not.
Miller said there were 136 workers who got to the U.S. who did not have jobs that had been promised by Gire, and those who were employed, were being paid in cash with no Social Security benefits, health or unemployment insurance.
"The defendant is making money and obviously not paying his fair share to protect American workers. He's avoiding his 6.25 percent into Social Security and his share of (payroll) taxes," said Miller, adding that practice allowed Gire to "undercut his competitors who are doing it the right way."
Miller described the living accommodations for the workers as a "warehouse" where some slept in sleeping bags.
The government contended at trial that Gire knew the foreign workers were living in a building owned by Grayson Enterprises, which was intended to make their employment more attractive while paying them less than the prevailing wage. It also made it harder for authorities to find them.
Beckett urged the judge to consider that Gire was duped by so-called "promoters" who reach out to legitimate businesses and offer to make arrangements to obtain the H-2B visas for them to get the help they need. Some of the more unscrupulous promoters charge high fees to the foreign workers to get the visas as well as to the companies that need the workers.
"The defendant was naive. He relied on people that he thought were professional," Beckett said of the petitions that were supported by the fraudulent contracts. "He didn't catch it and continued it and opened himself to criminal liability.
"Use your discretion and see where he fits in the bigger picture," said Beckett, asking the judge to sentence his client to probation or a year and a day in prison. "This case has been horrible. Ed Gire can't do any business in central Illinois any more. Everybody thinks he's a crook, and he'll carry that forever."
Beckett said some of the workers who obtained visas to work for Grayson Enterprises showed up but left without ever doing work.
As to the illegal harboring, Beckett said the warehouse on Hensley Road was not the property "of some sort of slumlord." It had been remodeled to feature small individual quarters for the workers along with two kitchens and a recreation area they all shared.
Wise's argument on behalf of Grayson Enterprises was similar. He called Miller's recommended $1.25 million fine "just excessive."
He reminded the judge that when about 30 workers arrived in Illinois in 2013, Young took them to Walmart, where she spent about $1,000 to buy toiletries and clothes to help them settle in and took them to the Social Security office to get proper documentation.
"Shortly after, those workers, to a person, left," Wise said.
Regarding the illegal harboring, Wise said the government's characterization of the Hensley Road property was misleading and evidence at trial was that the workers weren't there more than about four or five weeks.
"Calling this a squalid dump warehouse is about as far from accurate as you can get," said Wise, comparing the quarters to his children's college dormitory rooms.
He also said Young being the president of both Grayson Enterprises and Quick Leasing was an "absolutely legal structure."
"For (the government to imply) that to be evil or mischievous is anathema to corporate America," Wise argued. "A $100,000 fine is sufficient punishment for Grayson Enterprises and sends a message of 'You can't do this' but doesn't run this company into the ground."
In his brief statement to the judge, Gire, a father of four, told Myerscough he was a roofer by trade who did not go to college but built his business through hard work.
"I want the court to know that my life has been forever affected by my mistakes in judgment," he said. "Only now, working to put roofs on homes destroyed by the catastrophic hurricane on the Florida Panhandle, do I feel like my life has meaning again. I cannot go backward, but I'm going forward working 16 hours a day to salvage as many houses as possible before the winter fully sets in, and I feel good helping people.
"I ask the Court to impose a merciful sentence and to allow me the time to continue to help those who need my help in the Panama City area," he said.