In front of rows of seized classic cars, decked-out trucks, an RV and a table of guns, U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak announced today that a federal grand jury indicted a Rossville and Hixson construction business owner.
Juan Antonio Perez faces charges of alien harboring for commercial and private financial gain, as well as possession of firearms by an illegal alien. During a press conference, recorded by our news partners at WRCB-TV, Pak said Perez operated Aztec Framing with a list of employees who immigrated to the United State illegally. He said Perez did not pay his employees market wages, offer them benefits or pay income or Social Security taxes.
"This is the type of enforcement that the federal government seeks to do: Prosecuting companies that employ illegal aliens, not following the law and gaining an unfair advantage," Pak said. "Those companies exploiting illegal aliens who are willing to work for less money while they undercut other legitimate businesses that are following the rules and laws."
A spokesman for Pak said a grand jury indicted Perez on Tuesday. According to a complaint filed by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent James Rivas in the U.S. District Court of North Georgia on April 24, investigators have followed Perez's business operations since at least April 2013, when they interviewed the owners of a Cartersville Mexican Restaurant in a building where Perez also allegedly operated.
In addition to property in Cartersville, Perez has offices at 1641 LaFayette Road in Rossville, Georgia, and 1027 Lower Mill Road in Hixson. Federal agents raided those businesses on April 30, and towed a lineup of classic vehicles away.
Perez made his first appearance in front of a magistrate in U.S. District Court in Rome, Georgia, that same day. Bob Page, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Perez remains will next got to court Monday for a first appearance hearing.
The complaint from Rivas does not outline exactly how much money Perez has. But in one payroll account, he withdrew about $5.8 million from June through January.
A 7,400-square-foot home in Rydal, Georgia, in Perez's wife's name was valued at $1 million last year, according to the Bartow County Property Appraiser's website.
In his complaint, Rivas described the home as a "compound" and wrote that armed guards patrolled from inside a gate. He also said Perez bought a second home in Kingston, Georgia, which he used as a weekend getaway.
During the press conference, Pak stood in front of tables hosting some of the guns agents seized. He said they found eight pistols, one rifle and five shotguns during their searches.
ICE's Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Nick Annan said the guns and cars displayed Tuesday was proof of Perez's profits. He also pointed out that Perez, who allegedly immigrated to the United States illegally in 1992, asked legal residents and citizens to put utility bills in their names. They also allegedly purchased guns for him.
"He victimized those legitimate business owners that attempted to compete against him but couldn't," Annan said. "Mr. Perez was an illegal, undocumented alien himself and knew that much of his workforce was also undocumented, and he attempted to shield himself through an elaborate scheme."
Rivas' complaint, unsealed last week, names several Cartersville residents who helped Perez, by putting his vehicles and utility bills in their names. One couple delayed the case because they tipped Perez off about the investigation after agents interviewed them, according to the complaint.
"The investigation is continuing, and we're looking at various other charges with people involved," Pak said. "When we gather enough evidence, we'll present that evidence to a grand jury."