January 17, 2017


Woman in illegal farm worker trial helped fill local labor void, witness says


By Michael Kransz

BAY CITY, MI -- In 2006, it was getting difficult for dairy farm owner David Seimen to find people willing to get their hands dirty.

Up until the drought of employees, he'd hired all local people, Seimen testified in a federal court Tuesday.

So when a woman approached him that year offering a number of "good men" for hire, it was a boon.

The woman, Irene Maria Martinez-Gonzales, is standing trial on nine federal charges related to harboring, transporting and aiding illegal aliens and deriving profit from it.

The federal indictment against Martinez-Gonzales alleges that, from February 2008 to January 2016, she helped a number of illegal aliens find  work at farms across Huron and Tuscola counties and elsewhere.

It's also alleged in the indictment she helped illegal aliens cash checks, send money out of the country and transported illegals across state borders.

Martinez-Gonzales appeared before U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington on Tuesday, Jan. 17, for the continuation of her trial, which attorneys expect to wrap up before the weekend.

Seimen was a witness for the prosecution in the case against Martinez-Gonzales.

Although none of Seimen's workers were found to be illegals, he testified he was alerted of some discrepancies in an employee's paperwork by the Internal Revenue Service.

Martinez-Gonzales was one of four people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in January 2016 in connection to illegal alien activity, according to the Huron Daily Tribune.

The most severe charges against Martinez-Gonzales are those that allege she derived profit in harboring, transporting and aiding illegal aliens.

Of the nine charges against her, four claim she did profit. Each of those charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

In the past several years, a number of dairy farms in the Thumb have been subject to federal investigations for allegedly hiring illegal aliens.

In November 2016, Yolanda Stewart pleaded guilty to conspiring to transport, harbor, and shield illegal aliens from detection for private financial gain. She was sentenced to more than two years in federal prison.

In September 2016, a husband and wife who owned and operated Parisville Dairy and Dunganstown Dairy in the Thumb were charged with conspiring to transport, conceal, harbor and shield from detection undocumented immigrants to obtain their services for financial gain.

In 2010, Johannes VerHaar and his wife Anthonia M. VerHaar were indicted on charges of illegally hiring undocumented immigrant employees at their dairy farm, Aquila Farms LLC.