The sentencing of a Tennessee man who was found guilty of wire fraud, tax fraud, and employing individuals living in the country without authorization has been delayed while another, related case is concluded.
James Brantley, age 61, is the owner of Southern Provision, LLC, a slaughterhouse and meatpacking business based in Bean Station in eastern Tennessee. Between 1988 and 2018, Brantley deliberately hired people living in the United States illegally in order to avoid paying workers’ compensation insurance premiums as well as unemployment insurance premiums and other tax obligations.
Brantley has agreed to pay $127,405 restitution to Southern Provision’s former workers’ compensation insurance provider for understating how many employees required coverage. He has also agreed to pay $1,423,588 to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for avoiding his tax obligations. At his sentencing, Brantley will face up to 20 years in prison for the charge of wire fraud, five years in prison for the tax charges, and six months in prison for employing people without authorization to be in the country.
The investigation against Brantley was conducted jointly by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. A Latino agent worked at Southern Provision undercover to discover more about the company’s hiring practices.
According to an affidavit by IRS investigator Nicholas Worsham, the undercover agent “stated that he knew that several of these employees used to work at another meat-processing plant in Morristown but had been fired because their identification paperwork was fraudulent.”
Investigators also learned that Brantley regularly withdrew cash amounting to $100,000 from his account at Citizens Bank. This was, Brantley told bank officials, to pay “cash wages to Hispanics.”
With a federal search warrant in hand, investigators led a raid on Southern Provisions in April 2018. There, agents found that more than 100 undocumented aliens were currently employed there. Brantley paid these workers between $8 and $10 an hour and regularly asked these employees to work overtime at this same rate rather than the legally required time-and-a-half. Brantley was also dramatically underreporting payroll to the IRS, claiming at the time he only had 44 employees.
This is hardly a unique phenomenon. In Jacksonville, Florida, brother and sister Roger Omar Zelaya-Mendez and Fanny Melina Zelaya-Mendez were sentenced to prison for knowingly employing hundreds of undocumented aliens in the construction industry. By doing so and by concealing their true payroll, the siblings avoided paying millions of dollars in tax obligations and workers’ compensation insurance premiums. In Texas, Alpha Mar underreported payroll to reduce their workers’ compensation overheads between 2008 and 2012. Alpha Mar has been ordered to pay $250,000 to their former insurance provider as restitution.
Worsham’s affidavit implicated not only Brantley for the crimes at Southern Provisions, but also his wife, daughter, and another employee. As part of his plea deal, Brantley alone has faced federal prosecution.
Sentencing was delayed at the request of Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Harker. Although Harker did not state the specific reason for the request, he explained it was to do with a related case. “It is in the best interests of (the defendant) and in the best interest of justice that the date of the sentencing hearing be continued, so that other matters may be resolved prior to the sentencing of the defendant.”
If Brantley has indeed been cooperating with authorities in another case, this may help reduce his eventual sentence.
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