WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- A company that employed illegal immigrants at its McDonald's restaurants in Wichita has been ordered to pay $400,000 as part of a federal crackdown in Kansas on companies that knowingly hire workers who are unlawfully in the United States.
The U.S. attorney's office announced Tuesday that McCalla Corp. had pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly accepting a fraudulent identification document as proof of employment eligibility. Under the settlement, the Wichita-based company paid a $300,000 fine and a $100,000 forfeiture.
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom told The Associated Press that the Justice Department has to deal with the realities of budgetary constraints and that it makes sense from a "cost-effective standpoint" to go after the employers.
"If nobody is employing undocumented workers, then we don't have an illegal immigration issue to deal with," he said in a phone interview.
McCalla operates six McDonald's restaurants in Wichita. Investigators found that managers at five of those six restaurants were unlawfully in the country, and that they in turn hired other undocumented workers, Grissom said.
The government estimated that between 20 and 30 illegal immigrants worked at the restaurants between May 2009 and September 2012.
The $100,000 forfeiture represented the "unjust enrichment" the corporation had garnered as a result of hiring illegal immigrants at a reduced rate and not having to payroll taxes such as Social Security, Medicare and other withholding taxes, Grissom said.
McCalla's attorney, Lee Thompson, said the company has already paid the fines, and "is a good corporate citizen and accepts responsibilities for the acts of its employees." He noted that the criminal charge was "very limited" to one incident.
When the firm was first charged in October, McCalla President Roy McCalla said the incident did not reflect his company's policies.
But the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement Tuesday that any attempt to minimize or excuse this kind of conduct is unacceptable. We know these practices are widespread, and investigations similar to the McCalla case are under way."
Grissom declined to say how many such investigations were under way, but said they were in both urban and rural settings.
McCalla is the second Kansas company this year to be prosecuted for knowingly employing illegal immigrants.
In September, the U.S. attorney's office charged the owners of two Clarion hotels — one in Kansas City and the other in Overland Park — after finding half of their employees were illegal immigrants.
The owners, a suburban Kansas City couple, face charges including conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for personal gain. If convicted, they could lose their two hotels, bank accounts and spend decades in prison.
Grissom said going after business owners is more effective than showing up at a job site and arresting illegal immigrant workers, which he said usually results in other undocumented workers replacing them in a few days.
"So the most cost-effective message we can send out is, if you as an employer are knowingly hiring undocumented persons, then we are going to pursue you," Grissom said. "This is going to send a very loud and clear message."