GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — Updated Story (7/31/19): The owner of a Bean Station slaughterhouse who admitted paying illegal immigrants in cash for years to avoid federal payroll obligations was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in federal prison.
James Brantley pleaded guilty last year in U.S. District Court in Greeneville to counts of failing to collect and pay federal employment taxes, wire fraud and hiring unauthorized aliens.
Brantley asked U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer on Wednesday morning for probation. The judge, however, said he couldn’t agree to that because of the seriousness of his crimes.
“Mr. Brantley, I cannot impose a probation sentence in this case,” Greer said.
After serving his time in the penitentiary, Brantley faces three years of supervised release.
He will be able to self-report for his prison sentence. Brantley is asking to be assigned to a minimum security work camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
The 62-year-old remains free for now.
He had already paid restitution to the U.S. government totaling $1,423,588 for years in which he failed to pay employment and workers compensation taxes for his employees.
Neither Brantley nor his defense attorney Norman McKellar wanted to comment to 10News after sentencing. About 15 friends and family members attended Wednesday’s two-hour sentencing.
Brantley still faces action by the U.S. Department of Labor about overtime wages it says he failed to pay some employees.
Greer wished Brantley luck and noted he has the option of appealing the sentence.
“There’s no question, Mr. Brantley, in my mind that you have worked hard all your life,” Greer said.
The judge also praised Brantley for helping the government by providing background information on the case and by providing information that helped in the prosecution of two employees who recruited and hired undocumented workers to work at the slaughterhouse.
The plant closed for several months but reopened Monday, according to state Sen. Steve Southerland of Morristown.
McKeller said Brantley no longer owns the plant; it’s now in his wife Pam’s name.
In seeking mercy for his client, McKellar argued that once Brantley hired illegal employees, he had no way to pay their federal taxes because they were in fact illegal.
The judge noted the novel argument while also saying Brantley chose to break the law by hiring non-residents.
McKellar also said Brantley needs to stay close at hand to care for his wife, who has diabetes. The judge was unswayed.
When pressed by the judge, Brantley said about 75 percent of his 100 or so employees were illegal residents on the day federal authorities raided it in April 2018.
Greer said 10 illegal residents were arrested after the 2018 raid. All of them ended up serving time behind bars, he said.