FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 31, 2019CONTACT: Hamp Price, firstname.lastname@example.org, 256-749-6420
Owner of East Tennessee Meat Processing Plant Sentenced to 18 Months in Federal Prison, 3 Years ProbationInvestigation into employment practices prompted militaristic ICE raid in April 2018
NASHVILLE, TN - Today, the Eastern District of the U.S. Court sentenced James Brantley, the owner of Southeastern Provision, to 18 months in federal prison and 3 years probation.
According to reporting from the Knox News Sentinel, Senior U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer recognized the impacts on the affected workers during sentencing.
"I cannot impose a probationary sentence in this case," Greer said Wednesday. "In my view, to do so would undermine respect for our court system and create a situation where people would draw the conclusion that a certain class of people are treated more leniently than others... This is an offense made even more serious in my view because of the political climate of today. The impact has been quite severe for many (of the plant's former workers). Many of them have been separated from their wives, their husbands, their children. Some of them have gone to jail."
Southeastern Provision is the meat-processing plant in Bean Station, Tennessee, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other agencies conducted a massive raid in April 2018, using aggressive, militaristic force to arrest nearly a hundred workers.
Brantley’s sentencing comes on the heels of reports that Southeastern Provision is resuming operations in Bean Station.
After the massive ICE raid in April 2018, dozens of workers spent weeks in federal detention centers, many have been deported and permanently ripped away from their community, and dozens more await their immigration hearings where they, too, may be sentenced to deportation and family separation.
The following is a quote from Stephanie Teatro, Co-Executive Director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC):
“The federal charges brought against Mr. Brantley, as well as the complaint from the Department of Labor and the citations from the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, demonstrate that Mr. Brantley flagrantly violated laws that are intended to protect all workers in this country. He intentionally and blatantly defied required workplace health and safety standards, underpaid his workers, and defrauded the government. His low-road practices put all of his employees in danger, and undercut honest businesses.
It’s important that we hold employers like Brantley accountable. Our government should focus on enforcing the labor rights that protect all workers in this country - the rights to a safe workplace, free from wage theft and discrimination. But instead of focusing enforcement on the employer, ICE made a decision to engage in the most aggressive, violent form of enforcement it could take at this worksite. We can hold employers like Brantley accountable for their misconduct, without punishing workers with militaristic raids that are deeply disruptive to local communities, leave children stranded without their parents, terrify entire communities, and devastate local economies.
As the Trump administration has escalated the use of worksite raids, it’s only increased the likelihood that low road employers like Brantley will be able to continue to exploit workers and undercut their competitors. When employers and the government hold the threat of deportation above workers’ heads, they are less likely to report dangerous conditions like those that persisted at Southeastern Provision.”
Last year, Mr. Brantley pleaded guilty to federal charges of tax evasion and wire fraud. He is charged with evading nearly $1.3 million in federal payroll taxes over the past decade and neglecting to pay state and federal fees such as unemployment and workers’ comp premiums.
In the same month, the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration (TOSHA) slammed the plant with $41,775 in fines and cited the company for 27 violations, 23 of which were categorized as “serious” because of the risk of physical harm or death posed to workers. This fine is among the highest levied by TOSHA and indicates the seriousness of the violations found by the state agency and the dangers facing the workers in the plant. The TOSHA investigation found that the company failed to provide even the most basic safety equipment and sanitary facilities, creating an extremely hazardous work environment for plant employees. Employees faced a wide range of injuries due to dangerous levels of noise, exposure to chemicals, faulty equipment, and poor sanitation.
On April 29, 2019, the US Department of Labor sued Brantley for minimum wage violations & unpaid overtime after an administrative investigation revealed violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act at Southeastern Provision. Filing this suit is the most aggressive enforcement action the USDOL can take against him for worker exploitation. The lawsuit alleges Brantley willfully & repeatedly broke wage and hour laws and seeks the maximum amount of back wages & damages for the workers
TIRRC is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to develop immigrant leadership, build the capacity of its immigrant-led member organizations, help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society. In just a few years TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States.