Man sentenced for hiring immigrants with fake IDs
The writer of the pre-sentence report referred to Petrie as “a man defeated,” Diane Donohoo, assistant district attorney for Walworth County, noted at Petrie’s sentencing Monday afternoon.
“I saw the same thing,” she said.
Petrie stayed quiet at the hearing, at which he faced punishment for pleading guilty July 23 to five felony counts of conspiring to commit identity theft. He will be released for work during his jail sentence.
The Aug. 8, 2006, raid at Star Packaging led to the arrest of Petrie and 25 Hispanic employees suspected of living in the United States illegally. Since then, Petrie has lost his business and been the focal point of a controversy that tore at the community’s fabric.
Many in Whitewater’s Latino community viewed the raid and the investigation as racially motivated. Donohoo and the Whitewater Police Department deny the charge, even though they did not investigate Caucasian employees.
Whitewater’s Latinos supported Petrie. They held rallies in front of his business, and many viewed him as a man who employed people who came to the country seeking better lives.
But Petrie committed crimes by having employees change their names or Social Security numbers, victimizing the rightful owners of those numbers. He kept records with the evidence and might have known that some employees were illegal as early as the mid-1990s, Donohoo said.
“Identity theft is a prolific crime. It has to stop,” Donohoo said. “This is why the state is prosecuting Al Petrie. We’re going to the source.
“Mr. Petrie is not a champion of the cause of illegal immigrants. He is a businessman. He took a risk, and it did not pay out for him.”
Defense attorney Stephen Glynn said Petrie acknowledged committing crimes and being responsible for his business crumbling, putting members of his family and more than 100 others out of work.
Glynn claimed authorities set up Petrie as an example for other business owners to learn from his mistakes.
“That level of personal publicity, humiliation, holding your family up to ridicule, that kind of consequence added to these other consequences lays out a penalty that, if it’s known to anybody else, who would consider (hiring illegal immigrants),” Glynn said.
Donohoo said the case—possibly the first of its kind in the state where a business owner was charged with identity theft—should set an example.
“I want to cut off the source of illegal employment,” she said. “I want other employers to think twice before hiring people they should not.”
Other prosecutors in the state supported her, Donohoo said, and she believes some might follow suit.