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UPDATE: Durham brothers face human smuggling charges after raid

Two brothers who run J&A Framers Carpentry Inc., a local home framing company, were indicted this week and charged with underpaying workers they hired by working with smugglers to bring the men to Durham.

The brothers, who are originally from Mexico but got their U.S. citizenships in the 1980s through marriages to American women, are accused of paying the 100 workers they used for their prospering construction business less than the minimum wage, even taking out money from paychecks to pay off coyotes, or smugglers, that brought the laborers from Mexico to U.S.

Last week, NC Policy Watch wrote about an immigration raid that resulted in the arrests of 18 J&A workers, eight of whom have since plead guilty to charges of evading immigration inspection at the border and are facing deportation proceedings . The coordinated arrests last month prompted some fears in Latino communities that immigration agents might be returning to the workplace raids seen more often under the Bush administration.

At that time, federal prosecutors and immigration officials had little to say about the Lopez-Ponce brothers.

But Tuesday’s indictments reveal that the Lopez-Ponce brothers were the larger targets for federal officials. The two men are facing felony charges of “conspiring to bring in and harbor illegal aliens,” “bringing an illegal alien into the U.S.” and “engaging in an pattern of practice of unlawful hiring and recruiting unauthorized aliens,” according to federal court documents.

The brothers are accused of taking in $2.3 million in business revenue from contractors from 2005 to 2010, but not taking out the proper payroll taxes of their employees . They’re also accused of withholding money from paychecks to pay off coyotes and taking out rent money for trailers that some of their workers lived in that the Lopez-Ponce brothers owned, according to the federal indictment.

The brothers are expected to be in front of a judge at 10 a.m. Monday for a hearing in the federal courthouse in downtown Raleigh.

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