Packinghouse workers caught in an immigration raid in Naples plead not guilty Monday at a Collier County Courthouse. Advocates and attorneys for the employees said the state improperly arrested them for alleged workers compensation fraud.
State officials arrested more than 100 employees at Fruit Dynamics in Naples about a month ago.
Officials at Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud said the workers were using fake or stolen Social Security numbers to work at the packing plant. The employees have now been formally charged with offenses related to workers compensation fraud.
However, immigration advocates and lawyers representing the workers said the state’s arrests were improper. They say the agency should not have targeted the workers over the employers who hired them.
“I believe that most of the cases are going to go away,” said Attorney Lee Hollander represents, who three of the employees. “It’s basically a real waste of time. You know they got their five minutes of fame. Now, everyone goes home and we have to deal with the cases.”
Prosecutors threw out similar cases in St. Lucie County about two years ago. Advocates are urging the state to dismiss these charges, as well.
State officials said the workers broke the law when they gave false IDs to their employers when they were looking for work. The charges amount to a third-degree felony under Florida law.