97 Arrested in Immigration Raid at TN Beef Plant

What originally began as a criminal raid, turned into an immigration operation at a Tennessee packing plant. ( mgnonline.com )

U.S. immigration officials executed a criminal search warrant at the Southeastern Provision meatpacking plant in Grainger County, Tenn., Thursday, arresting 97 people. This is the single largest workplace raid in a decade.

What originally began as a criminal raid, turned into an immigration operation. According to the warrant affidavit, authorities were tipped off by bank employees about large cash withdrawls from Citizens Bank in Morristown, Tenn., by employees of Southeastern Provisions. Investigators found James Brantley, president of Southeastern Provisions, and his wife Pamela Brantley, along with their daughter Kelsey Brantley and Priscilla Keck, an employee, were withdrawing cash to pay employees at the slaughterhouse. More than $25 million in cash was withdrawn from bank accounts beginning in the past 10 years.

A confidential informant told authorities he never completed any paperwork nor was he required to show any identification or documentation before being hired.

Ten immigrants were arrested on federal criminal charges, one was arrested on state charges, and 86 were detained for being in the country illegally. Most were from Mexico, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Of the 86 immigrants arrested on civil immigration charges, ICE released 32 but did not explain why. The remaining 54 were detained, but did not release further information. Local news reports detail the turmoil many families are experiencing.

Earlier this year, well water in the area around Southeastern Provision was reportedly contaminated by fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria after the plant's septic system failed. State officials ordered the company to shut down its underground wastewater system and haul its waste to an offsite treatment facility.