SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The owner of a Pacific Beach bakery owner who continuously hired illegal migrants even though he had been fined by the federal government in the 1990s for doing the same thing was sentenced Thursday to five years probation and ordered to pay nearly $400,000 in fines and forfeitures.
Michel Malecot, owner and president of The French Gourmet Inc., pleaded guilty Oct. 13 to a misdemeanor charge related to his practice of hiring and employing undocumented workers, which he had been doing since 2003 even though he was fined by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1990s for giving work to illegal aliens.
As Malecot admitted in his guilty plea, there was evidence proving that 91 aliens were employed unlawfully at the bakery on Turquoise Street between 2005 and 2008.
Malecot also admitted to repeated acts of re-hiring undocumented workers even after the company received "no-match" letters from the Social Security Administration notifying them that the employees' names did not match the Social Security numbers reported on tax returns.
Outside court, Malecot, soon to be 60, said he was "too soft" when some of his managers accepted paperwork from prospective workers who turned out to be in the United States illegally.
French Gourmet Manager and Pastry Chef Richard Kauffmann, who pleaded guilty to a felony charge of hiring illegal aliens, was sentenced to three years probation and fined $2,500.
Malecot said the French Gourmet has lost some catering business because of the federal prosecution.
"It's not an excuse," Malecot said. "You know, I'm very relieved the whole deal is over and I'm also very confident because of the verifying we have been doing for quite awhile now.
"You know, it's very difficult for employers to be the judge of, (are) these real papers or not real papers?," Malecot told reporters. "As the owner, I have to assume responsibility for the company."
Malecot's attorney, Eugene Iredale, said federal prosecutors chose poorly when they decided to make an example out of Malecot.
Iredale said Malecot was "too generous, too compassionate, to pull the trigger on people who had been working for him for five, or six or eight years, when he found out that they weren't documented or that the Social Security numbers that they had given did not in fact match the actual records in Washington."
Malecot, who now employs 60 U.S. citizens, said he wasn't sure if his prosecution was meant as an example to other employers.
"They had to start somewhere," Malecot told reporters, noting that his high-profile business has won many awards and is involved in numerous charities in the community.
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