By Steve Zimmerman, Times-Democrat Staff
Well-known Sulphur saddle-maker Billy Cook was sentenced last Tuesday to probation and given a $51,000 fine for employing 51 illegal aliens in his saddle shop when it was raided by federal authorities in 2006.
Cook, 77, and Rutillo Osornio, Cook's shop foreman, were both given $6,000 fines for employing illegal aliens and conspiracy to employ illegal aliens, according to court documents. The two were also given two years probation.
The raid, on Sulphur's Billy Cook's Harness and Saddle took place in 2006, and was conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service and the Social Security Administration.
Sheldon J. Sperling, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, announced that Billy Cook Harness and Saddle, Inc., a Texas Corporation authorized to conduct business in the State of Oklahoma, received a sentence of 3 years probation, $51,000.00 in fines, and a Special Assessment Fee of $400.00. The corporation was charged with and pleaded guilty to a one felony count of furnishing false information to the Commissioner of Social Security, in violation of 42 U.S.C. ¬ß 408(a)(6).
"Ronald A. White, District Judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, in Muskogee, presided over the sentencing of the corporation," Sperling stated.
Sperling explained how the investigation unfolded.
"Billy Cook Harness and Saddle, Inc., a saddle and tack manufacturing company, in Sulphur, was the focus of an investigation by the United States Department of Homeland Security - Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the United States Social Security Administration (SSA). In the spring of 2006, ICE agents were informed that Billy Cook Harness and Saddle, Inc. Was employing illegal aliens in the saddle shop. In August 2006, a federal search warrant was executed at the business and ICE agents discovered 51 illegal aliens employed at the factory," he said.
He said agents also discovered that the firm had failed to create and maintain mandatory immigration forms (Form I9) on each of the employees. The Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had previously notified him that employee social security numbers which the company had reported to the SSA were not proper, Sperling noted.
Cook had waived indictment by a federal grand jury on September 11, 2007. "On behalf of himself and the corporation, he then pled guilty to misdemeanor crimes of Conspiracy to Unlawfully Employ Aliens and Unlawful Employing of Aliens in violation of 18 U.S.C. ¬ß 371 and 8 U.S.C. ¬ß 1324(a), respectively."
Steven P. Shreder, Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, in Muskogee, sentenced Cook to two (2) years probation on each misdemeanor count, to run concurrently, $3,000.00 in fines on each count, and a Special Assessment Fee of $10.00 for each count.
"Cook admitted last September that he had agreed with his longtime employee, Rutilo Osornio, 47, to hire illegal aliens who Osornio introduced to Cook. He also admitted that he hired illegal aliens who gave him the wrong social security numbers. He further admitted that he and Osornio conspired to unlawfully employ illegal aliens," recalled U.S. Attorney Sperling.
Osornio, a longtime employee of the firm, is a naturalized U.S. Citizen, who has been in the country since 1979. He pleaded guilty on September 11, 2007, to one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to unlawfully employ aliens. Said Sperling. "Osornio admitted to bringing illegal aliens to be hired by Billy Cook at the saddle company." he said. Osornio was also sentenced by Judge Shreder. Osornio received a sentence of 2 years probation, $3,000.00 in fines, and a Special Assessment Fee of $10.00," Sperling stated.
"This case presented a classic clash between competing government objectives. We are obligated to prosecute violations of immigration law. We are also charged to remove aliens and apportion scarce detention dollars," Sperling restated after the sentencing. "Federal ICE agents and Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General agents performed admirably in this investigation."
"The aliens were removed and the employer is being held responsible," he said.
Assistant United States Attorney Christopher J. Wilson represented the government. Phil Hurst, of Sulphur, represented the defendants. He was called for comment and did not respond.