SMITHVILLE — An owner of Butterville Farms, where an alleged illegal migrant worker died March 20, was arrested Wednesday morning by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents "for harboring illegals" and was taken in handcuffs to Syracuse.
John Barney, 48, of 11303 County Route 75, was arraigned and released without bail by U.S. District Court Judge Andrew T. Baxter.
"They told me they were arresting him for harboring illegals," Jesse Barney, his brother and business partner, told reporters.
"We don't know if they are illegals," he said. "We can't challenge them" when migrant workers present a federal document — the I-9 form — to obtain temporary employment.
Jefferson County sheriff's detectives and deputies assisted the federal agents.
According to the U.S. attorney's office, a conviction for harboring illegal aliens carries a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Mr. Barney said the farm, where his father, Howard, now in Florida, is senior owner, had never been investigated about hiring practices until Porfirio Lopez, 46, Guatemala, died in an apparent fall on the farm. The next day, ICE was investigating and removed eight migrant workers. Only one of them has been identified: Jacinto Raymundo, 25.
Approximately 14 federal agents and sheriff's deputies in seven cars pulled up to the farm at 7:20 a.m., and Mr. Barney was placed in handcuffs almost immediately. Sheriff John P. Burns said ICE requested extra police assistance because two ICE agents felt they were in a confrontational situation with the owners and migrant workers in their initial visit to the farm.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Duncan declined comment about the case, but released a criminal complaint that alleges Mr. Barney acknowledged to a sergeant of the Sheriff's Department that he was aware his workers were illegal aliens.
Jesse Barney said an ICE agent told him he would be called to come pick up his brother after arraignment. He was at a loss to explain why he was not also charged, since he is an equal partner with his brother in the farm business.
"John handles the cows, and I do crops," he said.
The brothers retained an attorney before the arrest, but they declined to identify the lawyer. Mr. Duncan said Mr. Barney was represented by an attorney at the arraignment, but he did not know who it was.
The last members of the police raid departed about 12 minutes after their arrival, taking with them the I-9 forms that migrant workers present to an employer for temporary employment.
The two brothers chatted with reporters who had been tipped off that something might be happening on the farm Wednesday morning. Before the arrival of police, the brothers said they had no warnings that something would be happening. ICE agents were supposed to have come Monday to collect the I-9 documents, but they never arrived, the brothers said.
Minutes after the discussion with reporters, they received a phone call alerting them that a caravan of police cars was coming from the north.
Mr. Barney was asked who called.
"We have good neighbors," Jesse Barney said.
He expressed his appreciation to those neighbors who helped out with their hired hands to do milking on the 1,200-head farm in the days after ICE removed the migrant workers.
Since then, the farm has hired replacement workers, he said. Many of them had to be trained, he said.
The brothers said during the pre-arrest interview that they had advertised in the past to hire help, but the only applicants were migrants. Publicity about the worker's death and the ICE investigation helped bring in job applicants, they said. As of Wednesday, they were back to their full complement of 17 workers, Jesse said.
Meanwhile, he was left Wednesday handling all of the administrative work and "going to pick up new parts" that he and his brother would have shared, he said.
The court documents indicate the migrant workers, speaking Spanish, admitted to the sheriff's sergeant that they were in the country illegally. Five of the migrant workers told ICE that they worked 12-hour shifts at hourly wages ranging from $7.75 to $8.75, with no taxes withheld, and their lodging provided by the farm.
One migrant was quoted, "The American workers get paid a lot more than I do and they get a lot more days off than I do."
While one of the migrants had worked on the farm only two weeks, another had been a Butterville hand for five years. Three others said they had worked there about a year.