A federal immigration official said yesterday that the Columbia Association should be "particularly attentive" to obtaining federally required employment eligibility forms -- which it has failed to do for more than a decade.
Louis D. Crocetti, district director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Maryland, said officials will discuss internally a Sun report yesterday detailing the association's failure to collect I-9 forms and its employment of illegal workers with "supervisory knowledge."
"I cannot say with certainty whether we will in fact conduct an investigation or whether we won't," said Crocetti.
But he added: "If I were them, I would be particularly attentive to correcting the problem."
Former Columbia Association President Padraic M. Kennedy -- who was in charge when the paperwork requirement went into effect -- said yesterday that he did not know the association needed to complete and retain I-9 forms for employees hired after Nov. 6, 1986.
"If you asked me does someone fill out an I-390 or an F-760, I really am not knowledgeable about that aspect," Kennedy said. "If they didn't do the I-9, I didn't know that."
According to an internal document prepared by Deborah O. McCarty, Kennedy's successor, the homeowners association had not required its employees, until recently, to fill out the I-9, a requirement of the Immigration Reform and Control Act.
Failure to have the forms could result in fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 for each employee hired after Nov. 6, 1986.
The document, marked "confidential," says the Columbia Association had employed illegal workers in two of its divisions with "supervisory knowledge." McCarty refused to answer questions on the matter, including:
When the association learned it had not been in compliance with the federal I-9 requirement.
What steps it has taken to comply.
When two illegal workers discovered at the Columbia Horse Center several months ago were hired.
Who knew they were not authorized to work.
What other division might have employed illegal workers.
McCarty said Monday that the workers were discovered at the horse center in the course of investigating a "fraudulent" worker's compensation claim. She said she is not "personally aware" of any others.
Kennedy said the worker who filed the worker's compensation claim was hired in August 1999, a year after he retired as head of the association. The worker's supervisor, Richard Retamoza, was hired in January 1999, Kennedy said.
Retamoza was dismissed as barn manager in December, but Columbia Association officials have said they won't discuss his departure.
Fines for knowingly employing an undocumented immigrant range from $250 to $2,000 for each immigrant for the first offense, and $2,000 to $5,000 for each immigrant for the second.
" 'Knowingly' is a very strong word," Crocetti said, "and then you have to look at who knew, and what was their responsibility as far as the company or the entity per se."
He said paperwork violations were more common in the first few years after the law went into effect, and that employers would generally be given a written warning but no fine.
"However, the transition period is pretty much several years past and we really don't see it as much anymore," he said. "Most employers are well aware of the I-9s."
On the issue of fines, Crocetti said: "If it's a first offense and they show that they've taken corrective action and that it wasn't intentionally done, we're pretty understanding and likely to mitigate" the fine.
Council Chairman Joseph Merke said yesterday that he would not comment on "confidential matters," such as when the association became aware of the problem.
Asked why that information is confidential, he said: "When you find things that are marked 'confidential' and hold that in confidence, then I have some reason to respond to you. Otherwise, I don't."
Council member Adam Rich of River Hill called the I-9 issue "another example of a long-standing practice that should have been corrected many years ago."
"Not until the current administration started putting into place the proper tools, such as a human resources manager, did these issues begin to get solved," he said.