TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has ordered a construction contractor to pay more than $8 million after authorities discovered many workers were on the property illegally – including Two men have been charged in the death of a Pinellas County deputy.
The state contractor, Archer Western-De Moya Joint Venture, has an exclusive contract with the Florida Department of Transportation to perform work on the Gateway Expressway in the Tampa Bay area. Records show the payments, part of a multi-billion dollar contract, have not been finalized since the findings were announced by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference in September that the contractor had hired “a bunch” of immigrants who could not legally work in the U.S., and that the state and the government concerned to address the issue with the company.
The investigation into the death of Deputy Michael Hartwick is ongoing, and the Department of Transportation and its contractor say they are cooperating with law enforcement.
“The company is fully cooperating with law enforcement and has not been reprimanded,” Peter Glimco, a spokesman for Archer Western-De Moya Joint Venture, said in response to questions on Thursday.
In a statement to the Times/Herald, the state agency defended the contractor.
“The Florida Department of Corrections and its contractors follow federal and state employment practices and laws. This is true here,” the statement read.
The federal agency also said the agent complied with an immigration law that DeSantis championed in 2020 aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration in the state. That law requires all public employers and their contractors to register and use the government’s E-Verify system, operated by the Department of Homeland Security, to confirm that they have authorize all new workers to work in the United States.
“Followed appropriate employment procedures, including the agency’s E-Verify verification process in connection with the issuance of this federal permit. The Department continues to support administrative efforts law enforcement and investigations related to this case,” the federal agency told the Times/Herald.
Glimco said state and federal guidelines were followed, and the two arrestees were “processed and certified for employment through the Federal E-Verify system.”
“The company has always followed federal and state employment guidelines and has never attempted to violate the law by hiring unauthorized personnel,” he said. “We are continuing to investigate the circumstances in which the company was defrauded at the expense of these individuals.”
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
Emily L. Mahoney provides political commentary on local, state and national politics every Thursday.
You are all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.
Check all your options
The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the E-Verify system, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Employers using the federal government’s E-Verify electronic system can verify documents submitted by new employees to Social Security Administration records and Department of Homeland Security records. If it is not according to the records the person is not entitled to work on the land.
The system’s accuracy has improved over the years by allowing employers to prepare a photo in the E-Verify system along with a document submitted by a new employee.
Errors still occur due to inaccurate data on the government database. Some groups opposed the use of E-Verify because of errors in the database, which they said could cost law enforcement officials. According to a 2013 survey, however, 92% of E-Verify users thought the tool was useful and accurate.
DeSantis brings light to the case
DeSantis has focused on the criminal case to boost his tough stance on immigration, a key issue for him as he seeks re-election on Nov. 8 and a chance to win a seat in the House. By 2024.
“We’ve just had a Pinellas County deputy killed by a foreigner who was pulled over twice and crossed the border illegally six months ago. I didn’t feel angry about that,” DeSantis said during the first and only gubernatorial debate when his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, criticized the governor’s immigration plan.
DeSantis did not say the state is still doing business with the contractor who employed the suspect.
The De Moya Group, listed as a partner in the deal, gave $32,500 to DeSantis’ political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, in the 2022 election cycle, according to campaign finance records.
This is not the first time the governor’s office and the Department of Transportation have come under scrutiny because illegal immigrants were hired to work for the government.
The Miami Herald reported last week that an immigrant from Venezuela who cannot legally work in the U.S. was paid to organize DeSantis’s immigration program, prompting the Republican governor to dispute his insistence that long to kill immigrants. workers without proper legal documents.
‘It’s all a mistake’
At a news conference last month, Gualtieri said Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, 32, was among those hired by the government contractor.
“This person illegally entered the country on October 25, 2021 in Eagle Pass, Texas. He was turned over by border patrol and sent back to Mexico. There is no record of his illegal return to the United States, and he is here illegally,” Gualtieri said. “He has been here in the Tampa Bay area since March of this year. .”
Molina-Salles was driving a front loader with a forklift, the type used to move concrete barriers, when he struck Hartwick and died instantly, Gualtieri said.
The 32-year-old continued driving before fleeing the scene. He gave his construction hat and coat to a co-worker, also an illegal land worker, who hid Molina-Salles’ belongings in a wooded area.
Molina-Salles hid from law enforcement and the manhunt lasted nine hours. He was eventually found with the help of blood scents that smelled his discarded belongings and used that scent to find him hiding behind some brush, Gualtieri said. He was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death. His accomplice was also arrested and charged with accessory after the fact.
Gualtieri questioned the contractors’ hiring practices after an investigation found some workers were on the job in the US without legal rights. Specifically, he questioned why the contractor allowed someone with a fake ID and no driver’s license to operate the machine.
“It’s all nonsense. And they’re going to accept that and let this guy get behind the wheel? Really?” Gualtieri said in September.
Glimco, the spokesman for Archer Western-de Moya Joint Venture, said Molina-Salles’ construction equipment does not require a driver’s license under Florida law.
‘He didn’t die like this’
The aide also lamented the slowness of the investigation because many of the country’s workers do not have authorization and refuse to give their real names to law enforcement.
“They’re all lying out there and giving fake names, fake IDs. There’s a lot of fake IDs from North Carolina, and this investigation is going to be very frustrating,” Gualtieri said.
Hardwick, a paramedic with 19 years of experience, arrived at the scene the night of Sept. 23 to make sure construction workers along Interstate 275 were safe from traffic.
He parked his motorcycle on the side of the road with his emergency equipment on and was standing on the shoulder of the road when he was hit by a motorist driving in front of him. by Molina-Salles.
“He didn’t die like that,” Gualtieri said.