Jury convicts businessman for role in KC-based human-trafficking scheme

By MARK MORRIS
The Kansas City Star
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Jurors found Kristin Dougherty, 50, guilty of racketeering, conspiracy and wire fraud after a four-day trial.

Prosecutors accused Dougherty of running Anchor Building Services, a labor leasing firm that obtained some of its workers from a network of Kansas City area subcontractors operated by a group of Uzbekistan nationals. Anchor contracted to provide housekeeping services at hotels and resorts around the country using the workers.

The government accused the Uzbeks, who pleaded guilty or fled the U.S. before the indictment was unsealed in May 2009, of coercing foreign workers to work for little or no pay while living in crowded and unsuitable housing.

In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Meiners said those Kansas City subcontractors provided legal cover for Dougherty by giving him deniability.

Defense lawyer Nathan Owings said his client and his co-workers at Anchor knew nothing about worker abuses.

“They were running a professional company and kept all the records,” Owings said. “If you’re running a criminal conspiracy, why would you keep all these records?”

Owings said he and his client planned to review the trial record before making any plans about an appeal.

Though prosecutors had painted the conspiracy as a cruel enterprise that fed off the slave labor of poorly compensated foreign workers, Dougherty emerged from the trial’s evidence as someone who appeared to treat his employees professionally. Records showed he paid workers what they were promised, including overtime; provided them with workers’ compensation insurance; and fired at least one manager who was not treating employees properly.

Prosecutors succeeded, however, in showing how a network of labor companies, working together, compromised federal safeguards designed to protect foreign and domestic workers.

Using a succession of companies, the conspirators illegally renewed temporary worker visas so foreign laborers could stay on the job long past the legal limit. Prosecutors alleged that Dougherty illegally promoted temporary foreign workers to supervisory positions without first checking to see whether U.S. workers wanted to fill those management positions.

Dougherty also allegedly asked hotels to inflate the numbers of the temporary seasonal workers they needed when he applied for their visas. This provided his firm and others with an illegal pool of cheap foreign labor that he could offer to other businesses.

Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/2010/10/28/2367269/grand-jury-convicts-businessman.html#ixzz143plQC4h

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