BEAN STATION, Tenn. (WATE) – New details were released Friday about Thursday’s raid on an East Tennessee slaughterhouse by the IRS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. What initially began as a criminal raid turned into immigration operation at Southeastern Provisions, a cattle slaughter business in Bean Station.
During the raid, 97 people were found who were subject to removal from the United States. Ten of those were arrested on federal criminal charges, one on state charges and 86 on administrative charges. Of the 86 administrative arrests, 54 were placed in detention and 32 were released.
Large Cash Withdrawals
A search warrant affidavit obtained by WATE 6 On Your Site revealed that federal authorities were tipped off by bank employees about large cash withdrawals from Citizens Bank in Morristown made by employees of Southeastern Provisions. An investigation revealed that James Brantley, who is the 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.
When bank employees questioned the transactions, the affidavit said they were told the cash was used for payroll. Investigators say $25 million in cash was withdrawn from the bank accounts beginning in 2008.
According to the affidavit, when bank officials toured the slaughterhouse in December 2016, they were told most of the employees were Hispanic and paid weekly in cash. Officials also saw a bank vault being readied for installation.
A Confidential Informant
A confidential informant working for law enforcement was hired by Southeastern Provisions and told law enforcement he never completed any paperwork nor was he required to show any identification or documentation before being hired. The informant said he was told he didn’t need a lawful identity to work at the company. He also reported he was paid in cash given to him in an envelope. The informant said most of the 60-70 employees he saw working were Hispanic.
The production workers were required to work overtime without being paid extra for their overtime hours, according to the informant. He said they were also required to work with harsh chemicals, including bleach mixed with other cleaning agents, without proper eye protection.
The informant told officials he knew several of the employees used to work at another meatpacking plant in Morristown, but were fired because their paperwork was fraudulent.
Payroll Tax Issues
Multiple withdrawals of more than $100,000 were made from Southeastern Provisions bank accounts, according to the affidavit. On IRS forms, Southeastern Provisions reported only 44 employees to the government. But based on aerial surveillance, 87 vehicles were found parked at the plant, leading authorities to believe the plant was employing 30-40 more undocumented immigrants.
Using numbers from the investigation, officials estimate that if Southeastern Provisions had properly reported wages to the IRS, they would have an additional $2.5 million payroll taxes from 2013-2016 on top of what they had already paid, according to the affidavit.
As part of the investigation, federal officials seized bank records, employee hours logs, contents of any vaults at the business, employee files and other documents.
Family Members Wait
After the raid Thursday, detained workers were taken to the National Guard Armory in Morristown.
Dozens of families stood across the street from the armory on Thursday. Some waited for hours to see if their loved ones were going to be released. Maria and Michelle Farias hoped to see their cousin walk out.
“It’s really frustrating for us because one of our family members are going to be detained or may be even deported, so it’s been hard on our families,” said Maria Farias.
Community members kept a running list of workers still inside in armory. On Thursday afternoon, roughly 100 names were on it.
“I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair because it’s not something bad that these people are doing and now they are being separated from their families,” said Veronica Galvan.
A Tennessee Immigration & Refugee Rights Coalition representative said the detained immigrants are not at the National Guard Armory. She said typically in this cases, immigrants are moved to Alabama and then transported to the ICE facility in Louisiana.
Anyone seeking information about relatives who may have been detained should call (888) 351-4024. Families can also visit the ICE detainee locator website for more information by clicking here.