Michigan dairy farm owners face sentence next week

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BAD AXE, Mich. (AP) — The owners of a Michigan dairy farm who pleaded guilty to hiring illegal immigrants are getting support from businesses that rely on the farm in their effort to avoid jail time.

John and Anja Verhaar pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and acknowledged employing 78 illegal immigrants from 2000 through fall 2007. Many were hired on multiple occasions using different names or Social Security numbers.

After emigrating from the Netherlands in the 1990s, the Verhaars have turned a small farm into a major 5,000-cow operation in Huron County, 110 miles north of Detroit.

"The Verhaars are law-abiding, honest individuals who made bad judgments with respect to certain hiring decisions," attorney Matthew Leitman said in an Oct. 27 court filing.

They face up to six months in jail Tuesday, but supporters hope the Verhaars remain free. Federal prosecutors have not taken a position.

"Since the Verhaars' arrival to our area, they have become valued members of our community — both socially and economically — and I cannot even begin to stress the adverse effects likely to occur" if the farm suffers, veterinarian Ken Walker said in a letter filed in court.

Kameron Southworth of Michigan Manure Management said Aquila Farms has been a steady customer for years and is a significant source of income. Hay suppliers Scott and Trudy Fodor said they might have to lay off their own children if the dairy farm doesn't buy hay.

"Now would not be a good time for them to have to find new employment with the economy such as it is," the Fodors said.

Leitman said the farm already has agreed to pay a $2.7 million penalty and any time in jail would jeopardize the business.

"The Verhaars' farming operation simply cannot continue without them. That is exactly why the Verhaars have avoided leaving their farm for vacations or travel and have gone to great lengths to avoid leaving together for even short periods of time," the attorney said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

 



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