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Howard Industries pleads guilty to conspiracy

LAUREL — One of Mississippi’s most successful private companies pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy to violate immigration laws related to the nation’s largest workplace raid on illegal immigrants, federal authorities said.

Immigration agents detained more than 600 illegal immigrants at Howard Industries’ electrical transformer plant in Laurel during a massive raid Aug. 25, 2008.

The company had repeatedly denied knowing that illegal immigrants worked at the plant, but pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy. The company agreed to pay a $2.5-million fine, which is larger than normal for such a conviction, the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release.

The company said in a statement that it was pleased to resolve the investigation “based on the actions of its former human resources manager Jose Humberto Gonzalez.”

Gonzalez is the only company executive who has been charged in the case. He pleaded guilty in Dec. 2009 to conspiracy and admitted that he hired hundreds of people who he knew were in the country illegally.

Gonzalez’s sentencing has been delayed several times without explanation while the investigation continued, leading legal experts to speculate that he’s been cooperating with investigators. His attorney did not immediately respond yesterday to messages from The Associated Press.

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