Friday, July 18, 2008

ICE Probe Leads to McDonald's Franchisee Guilty Plea

The Department of Justice announced this week that one current and one former top executive for a franchisee that owns 11 McDonald's restaurants in and around Reno, Nevada, and the corporation itself pleaded guilty in federal court to federal felony immigration charges for encouraging illegal aliens to reside in the U.S. The defendants in the case waived indictment and pleaded guilty to informations.

The DOJ press release notes that the government and the defendants agreed that the corporation will pay a $1 million fine and be placed on probation during the period the fine is outstanding. This agreement was accepted by the court. The individual defendants face sentencing at a later date.

According to the DOJ, ICE has made 937 criminal arrests in connection with worksite enforcement investigations in 2008. Of those, 99 involved owners, managers, supervisors or human resource employees who face charges ranging from harboring to knowingly hiring illegal aliens.

This case presents an interesting issue regarding sentencing in criminal cases involving corporate plea agreements. As noted in previous posts to this blog, corporations are often reluctant to accept a plea agreement without knowing the exact penalty to be imposed. Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, plea agreements can operate in one of two ways - non-binding or binding. In the first, which is the most common, the defendant pleads guilty and then awaits sentencing without knowing the exact sentence to be imposed. It it true that in such cases the government may recommend a particular sentence as part of the agreement, but the court retains the ultimate authority to decide what is just. In the second scenario, the plea agreement is offered under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11c(1)(C) as a binding plea agreement. This means that if the court accepts the guilty plea it also accepts the stipulated sentence. Federal judges rarely agree to such a plea agreement because it prevents the administration of judicial discretion and all but removes the court from the entire criminal process. It is, however, an option and, it appears, this procedure may have been utilized in the McDonald's case above.

See the DOJ Press Release here.

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