In late 2005, the Independent reported on seven men arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers at a Whitefish construction site after admitting they were in the country illegally.
The men worked for Kalispell-based Figueroa Framers helping build The Monterra, a luxury condominium development near Whitefish.
While the workers were arrested and either deported or imprisoned, Figueroa remained in business. At the time, an ICE agent admitted that it’s difficult to prove that a company knowingly hired illegal immigrants. A woman who answered the phone number for Figueroa, but declined to give her name, characterized the arrests as “just a little bump in the road” for the company.
But now the Independent has learned that the owners of Figueroa Framers, Eloy and Benigno Figueroa, were arrested Feb. 26 on federal charges of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula, a Flathead County sheriff’s deputy investigating a theft case on Feb. 15 came into contact with two female tenants of an apartment near Kalispell who spoke Spanish, but little English. The tenants said their husbands worked for Figueroa Framers.
The next day, ICE agents arrested three Mexican nationals, including the women’s husbands, at a jobsite in Somers.
When Eloy Figueroa arrived at the jobsite, he allegedly said to ICE agents, “What can I say, I got caught.”
The men arrested in Somers have, according to the complaint, stated that the Figueroas knew they were in the United States illegally.
The Figueroas’ arrest came on the same day Montana House Republicans took up HB 185, a bill sponsored by Whitefish Democratic Rep. Mike Jopek that would increase penalties for businesses caught knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
The bill had been tabled due to objections over a provision calling for the revocation of an offending company’s business license. An amended of version of the bill instead allows the state to seek an injunction preventing employers found guilty of violating the law three times from operating a Montana business. It was scheduled for a final vote on the House floor after press time.