SPRINGFIELD – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced last week that a Branson man pleaded guilty in federal court to harboring aliens and making false statements after arranging employment contracts for dozens of foreign workers at Branson locations in violation of their visas.
Steven Howard Teel, 39, of Branson, waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush on Thursday, June 13.
Teel admitted that he arranged for 78 foreign workers to enter the United States in 2009 under the H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker program. These workers were supposed to work in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; however, they were hired by businesses in Branson in violation of their visas and contrary to the applications that were submitted and approved by federal authorities.
According to Thursday’s plea agreement, Teel started a labor leasing business in 2005 with John Voisine, the owner of Santa Cruz Management, in order to recruit foreign workers to enter the United States and place those workers with various businesses as a seasonal labor force. Teel purchased the business from Voisine in January 2009.
In 2007, the plea agreement says, Santa Cruz Management began submitting documents related to the H-2B worker program to have alien workers from other countries enter the United States. Teel caused the submission of forms to the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Citizen Immigration Services that contained false information, including the number of workers needed and where the foreign workers would be employed. Those forms stated that foreign workers would be employed as landscape laborers or food and beverage assistants in the Myrtle Beach area. Instead, Teel admitted, the workers were displaced to satisfy employment contract obligations in Branson. At the time H-2B workers entered the United States, no federal approval had been granted as an H-2B employer for the Branson area.
Teel also admitted that he instructed H-2B workers (through labor recruiters located overseas) to intentionally mislead U.S. State Department and U.S. Border Patrol officials. H-2B workers were told, if questioned regarding their destination, to tell U.S. officials that they were going to receive training in Branson prior to being employed in Myrtle Beach.
As a result of illegally harboring the H-2B workers in Branson, Teel received $124,210 in revenue from local employers.
Under federal statutes, Teel is subject to a sentence of up to 15 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $500,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Carney. It was investigated by the Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General, the Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service and Homeland Security Investigations.