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Ex-cleaning firm owner sentenced in Maine

May 7, 2008
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The former owner of a Bangor cleaning company who waived indictment and pleaded guilty in January to harboring and employing illegal aliens was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to a year and a day in federal prison. 

BANGOR, Maine - The former owner of a Bangor cleaning company who waived indictment and pleaded guilty in January to harboring and employing illegal aliens was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to a year and a day in federal prison.

U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement officials believe Manuel Antonio Cornejo, 30, of Lewiston is the first employer to be sentenced in federal court in Bangor for hiring undocumented workers.

Cornejo also was sentenced to three years of supervised release after he completes his prison term and was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine. He faced up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for harboring illegal aliens and six months in prison and a fine of up to $3,000 for each of the 11 undocumented workers he employed in his floor cleaning business.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Cornejo’s recommended sentence was between 12 and 18 months in prison and a fine of $3,000 to $30,000. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Moore recommended the sentence the judge imposed while defense attorney Don Brown of Brewer asked for leniency.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock told Cornejo, a naturalized citizen, that he added a day onto the recommended sentence so that the defendant would be able to earn good time off his sentence and return to his wife and 2-year-old daughter in less than a year.

He most likely will serve nine to 10 months with time off for good behavior.

"It is time to remind you that obeying the laws of this country is a primary duty of U.S. citizens," Woodcock told the defendant. "This country gave you its prized possession - citizenship - and you paid the United States back by breaking its laws.

"This does not speak well of you, Mr. Cornejo," the judge continued. "I trust that in the future you will resist the temptation to break the law and be the citizen you swore you would be when you took the oath of citizenship."

Cornejo, who wept quietly through part of the sentencing, did not address the court. Neither did his wife or daughter who sat behind him in the courtroom.

Woodcock also stayed execution of the sentence for a month. The defendant remains free on $10,000 unsecured bond.

Cornejo was born and raised in El Salvador, according to information from the defendant’s pre-sentence report that Woodcock referred to during the 30-minute hearing.

The defendant’s mother died when he was 10, and at age 14, the judge said, Cornejo came to live with his father in Chelsea, Mass. After getting into some minor trouble in high school, Cornejo came to Bangor in 1997 as a Job Corps student.

After his graduation from Job Corps, Woodcock said, Cornejo went to work for a cleaning company. He started his own firm, M.C. Cleaning LLC, shortly after he became a citizen in 2006.

Between July 2006 and January 2008, Cornejo employed at least 11 illegal aliens in his cleaning business, according to prosecutors. He also provided housing for his employees, often at his Fruit Street residence.

Cornejo’s cleaning business was hired as a subcontractor by a Danvers, Mass., firm to clean the floors of eight Hannaford supermarkets in Greater Bangor, Bucksport and Belfast.

It was discovered that Cornejo was employing illegals when the Social Security numbers he sent to the Hannaford Bros. Co. headquarters in Scarborough did not match the corresponding names of the workers when the U.S. Social Security Administration ran a check of them.

Hannaford Bros. Co. has not been charged, according to prosecutors.

Two of Cornejo’s ex-employees also faced criminal charges.

Jose dos Santos Bispo, 40, a native of Brazil, was found at Cornejo’s home on Jan. 8. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges of unlawful re-entry after deportation and was sentenced Tuesday morning to time served or 119 days in prison. Bispo allegedly admitted that he was deported from the country in 2003 but returned in 2005 or 2006 to find work because he had a large amount of debt in Brazil.

In April, Rubidia Nohemy Mejia, 20, was sentenced to 84 days or time served for fraud and misuse of documents after pleading guilty to the charges earlier in the year. She admitted that she had bought a fraudulent Social Security card in Boston for $170. She also told investigators that she was a distant cousin of Cornejo’s, had known him in El Salvador, and that he knew she was in the country illegally.

Both of Cornejo’s former employees were expected to be deported.

Information on other employees was not available Tuesday afternoon, but several were turned over to immigration officials and returned to their home countries without facing criminal charges, according to prosecutors.

Because he is a citizen, Cornejo will remain in the United States after his release.

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