Search This Blog

Saturday, January 25, 2014

ICE: Mississippi Woman Charged with Selling Stolen Documents to Aliens



A Mississippi woman and more than a dozen aliens unlawfully present in the United States were arrested and charged with federal identity theft Friday. They allegedly took part in a scheme to provide aliens with genuine state driver's licenses obtained by using legitimate identification documents stolen from U.S. citizens. The federal charges stem from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations (MBI).

HSI special agents arrested Lorena Gomez, 33, a U.S. citizen, and 13 aliens Friday in Laurel. MBI investigators simultaneously arrested two Mississippi Department of Public Safety employees on forgery-related charges.

According to the complaint filed in federal court, Gomez is charged with stealing the identities of U.S. citizens and then providing their identity documents to approximately 70 illegal aliens since November 2013. The aliens then allegedly obtained valid Mississippi driver's licenses under the citizens' names using the fraudulent documents. The two arrested Mississippi Department of Public Safety employees are accused of conspiring with Gomez to sell driver's licenses to aliens who purchased identity documents from Gomez.

"Fraudulent documents threaten the security of all citizens by making it easier for criminals to commit a range of offenses from identity theft to potential terrorism," said Raymond R. Parmer Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. "Further, this scheme created a nightmare scenario in which citizens could potentially have been held responsible for driving infractions or even criminal acts committed by the aliens using their stolen identities."

Parmer oversees a five-state area of operations to include Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

If convicted, Gomez faces a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.


The Most Dangerous Specimen of Employee

by Tommy Eden



In September 2006, Edward Lane accepted a probationary position as Director of Central Alabama Community College’s Community Intensive Training for Youth Program, a program for at-risk youth in Alexander City, Alabama. Soon after assuming his duties, Lane audited the program’s finances and discovered that then-state representative Suzanne Schmitz was listed on the payroll but was not reporting for work and had not otherwise performed tangible work for the program. Schmitz lived in Madison County.

When Lane raised his concerns about Schmitz internally, he was warned by College President Steve Franks that terminating Schmitz’s employment could have negative repercussions for both Lane and the College. Despite these warnings, Lane terminated Schmitz’s employment with the program after Schmitz refused to report to work.

Schmitz then filed a lawsuit seeking to get her job back  and also commented to another program employee that she planned to “get [Lane] back” for terminating her and that, if Lane requested money from the state legislature, she would tell him “you’re fired.”

Soon after Schmitz’s job termination, the FBI began investigating Schmitz and contacted Lane for information. Lane testified before a federal grand jury and -- pursuant to a subpoena -- testified at Schmitz’s August 2008 federal criminal trial for mail fraud and fraud involving a program receiving federal funds. Schmitz was eventually convicted for mail fraud and sentenced to 30 months imprisonment, 36 months of supervised release during which she must perform 360 community service hours and pay back the $177,251.80 she received in public funds.

Within 90 days after Lane testified at Schmitz's first trial, he was fired by College President Franks. Lane then filed a lawsuit claiming that his termination was in retaliation for his testimony given in the Schmitz case, in violation of his Free Speech First Amendment right. The U.S. Federal Judge granted Frank’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Lane's speech was part of his official job duties and “not made as a citizen on a matter of public concern.” The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal citing the same legal standard.

On January 17, 2014 the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Lane’s challenge to the 11th Circuit Court’s "uniquely restrictive interpretation" of the First Amendment, which is contrary to prior rulings in the 3rd, 7th and 9th Circuits.

Common Sense Counsel: Edward Lane is a profile in courage whose perseverance will most likely be rewarded by the United States Supreme Court by late spring. Every Alabama public employer should keep a close eye on this case as it deals with the most dangerous specimen of employee – the sacred cow.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog atwww.alabamaatwork.com

Thursday, January 9, 2014

OSHA Seeks to Shame Employers


By Tommy Eden
Reprint: Opelika Auburn News January 12, 2014



Click here to view this Recorded Webinar Presentation 
Originally given at the East Alabama Worksite Health and Safety meeting held on January 10, 2014 
at the GE Aviation Plant located in Auburn, Alabama. 
Copy-written materials in presentation used with permission of SHL Talent Measurement. 
SHL Contact: 800-899-7451 or americascustomersuccess@shl.com to learn more

In November 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a proposed rule to make workplace injury and illness information publicly available on the internet in an effort to encourage safer workplace environments. Many think the rule is really to shame employers and encourage employees to seek out a union or plaintiff’s attorney.

OSHA now mandates that an employer posts a paper notice in the workplace OSHA Form 300A, which lists a summary of the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred during 2013. The form must be posted between Feb. 1 and April 30, 2014. The summary must include the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2013 and were logged on OSHA Form 300, Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. The form must be signed and certified by a company executive and displayed in a common area where notices to employees are usually posted. Employers with 10 or fewer employees and employers in certain industries are normally exempt. Copies of OSHA Forms 300 and 300A are available at http://s.dol.gov/YQ.

The proposal to electronically submit OSHA Form 300 had its final public hearing on January 9, 2014. Once the regulation is final, OSHA plans to then take the electronic information and post at OSHA.gov. The proposal came after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that an estimated three million workers were injured on the job in 2012.

Under the proposal, companies with more than 250 employees will electronically submit their illness and injury data to OSHA on a quarterly basis. The rule would also require 20-person firms in high-injury industries, such as home construction, to submit summary reports to the agency annually. In its press release OSHA gave as its justification: “Public access to this information will encourage employers to maintain and improve workplace safety and health in order to support their reputations as good places to work and/or do business with,” i.e. to shame employers.

Common Sense Counsel:  It is likely that attorneys will attempt to use the OSHA injury and illness data in workers’ compensation, personal injury, premises liability and product liability litigation, whether it is really relevant or not. The internet posting may also become a “scarlet letter” unfairly damaging an employer’s reputation. Look for the final Regulations to be released late spring 2014.

More than ever, employers need to be looking to crack the “DNA of Safety” and hire those employee who do not have risk taking in their “DNA”. Validated Internet Administered Personality testing, combined with aligned favorable-trait job descriptions, is the only real alternative available to employers to reduce the human factor side of workplace accidents. No workplace accidents equal no unfavorable OSHA 300 reports. What is your Company’s DNA of Safety?

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com with YouTube presentation on topic.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chambers/Associations Healthcare 2014 Solution?


[reprint of article from OpelikaAuburn News 1/05/2014]





By Tommy Eden

As a consequence of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) 2014 will bring many difficult healthcare challenges for businesses too small to absorb new costs and too big to think about dropping coverage. The ACA pay or play penalty for businesses with 50 or more employees to provide insurance to all full-time employees was delayed until 2015, but multiple ACA headwinds are already blowing strong in 2014 - - such as:

•New Healthcare Taxes. Starting in January 2014, businesses that are fully insured -- as opposed to self-insured -- will be hit with an $8 billion tax. This alone will add 2%-3% to premiums for each covered employee; and increases every year for the next several years. By 2018 will be about 4%. The ACA this year adds a $63 reinsurance fee for every person covered by a plan.

•Premium increases have already hit many.
Small employers, as well as those with individual policies, saw 20%-30% premium increases for their 2014 policies with a doubling of deductibles.

•Challenging for small business to even keep insurance.  As insurance premiums and deductibles rise, many lower-paid employees will opt out of insurance, or go onto the public exchanges. Add to that the fact that in 2014 premiums paid by employers for major medical coverage will be included in employee W-2 income which will drive many employees to say no thanks. Insurers typically require a minimum level of employee participation.

Common Sense Counsel:
How can a small Alabama business mitigate the cost impact of the Affordable Care Act?  It will require innovation on multiple levels to enable small employers to help employees and their families in this time of uncertainty. Warnings are that these headwinds will cause small and midsize employers to drop group health coverage causing 100 million employees to lose their employer provided group coverage by the end of 2014. Predictions are that 2014 will result in a mass migration of employees off their traditional employer provided group heath plans.

One of the bright spots in Alabama is the emergence of the private health insurance exchanges which may be accessed through a sponsoring local Chamber of Commerce or Alabama employer Association. Health Insurers in these exchanges offer health insurance policies approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well a variety of other policy options. Employers can fund these individual polices through a defined contribution plan, as well as Health Saving Accounts (HSA) to pay deductibles. Employees are allowed to shop for plans that best fit their family needs and lifestyle. Now is the time to plan strategically. So who you gonna call?



Click here to view my Affordable Care Act Small Alabama Employer Survival Guidance webinar.

Examples of some chambers and associations offering private exchange option to their members:

www.dccexchange.com

www.shoalschamberexchange.com

www.mhraexchange.com



Want to learn how a private exchange operates? Click here


Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901.