The U.S. Attorney’s Office has staked its claim on what it’s calling the “largest immigration forfeiture in the country.”
Federal prosecutors are seeking the property of Hugo and Blanca Diaz, who pleaded guilty in federal court last week in exchange for prosecutors dropping most of the charges on an indictment from November that accuses them of harboring illegal immigrants and employing them in their Evans-based construction businesses.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Stewart said a significant part of the couple’s punishment is the government seizing their property, including a $1.7 million home on Grace Avenue in Evans and nine vehicles with an estimated value greater than $150,000.
Stewart called it the “largest immigration forfeiture in the country” during Blanca Diaz’s sentencing. The couple face deportation to their native Mexico.
The U.S. government isn’t the only one interested in the property, however.
An Augusta attorney has filed an involuntary bankruptcy claim against Hugo Diaz on behalf of three businesses who say Diaz still owes them money for construction supplies. Collectively, the claims add up to $121,570, but attorney Louis Saul said there are other businesses in the area who still haven’t been paid and likely won’t be for several years. Saul said it adds up to big problems for small businesses.
“If you take $80,000 out of your cash flow, then you’re taking a hit,” he said.
Saul turned up in court last week before Hugo Diaz pleaded guilty to contest the criminal proceedings before the bankruptcy issues were cleared. He claims case law supports his position, but U.S. District Judge Randal Hall proceeded with the hearing after listening to Saul’s argument.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s motion to proceed with forfeiture also says the criminal proceedings hold precedence, citing its own case law that “not only exempts criminal forfeiture proceedings from the automatic bankruptcy stay” but also “‘affirmatively bars interference’ with a criminal case by non-parties.”
In an interview, Saul remained confident that his “ace trumps their king or queen.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Durham said Tuesday that anyone with a claim to the properties can file the appropriate paperwork in court. But the outstanding debts are not part of the forfeiture proceedings, Durham said.
Durham declined to comment on whether the U.S. government would pursue any assets sent to Mexico.