Phoenix firm tied to illegal worker roundup

Cutting Edge Forestry Inc. of Phoenix has become embroiled in a federal investigation after 14 illegal immigrants were arrested for working under contract with the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho.

Carl Rusnok, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the arrests were made Tuesday at the Idaho City Hotel.

Of those arrested, 10 were deported and four were released pending an immigration hearing, he said.

Rusnok said he didn't have all the details of the arrests and couldn't provide any information about how Cutting Edge hired the workers or about potential fines.

"It's an ongoing investigation," he said.

Rusnok said these cases are all "lead generated" by people who observe possible illegal activity and contact officials. If an initial investigation determines the validity of their suspicions, arrests may follow.

He said he didn't know why four of the workers were released pending an immigration hearing, but he said they could have been released for humanitarian reasons such as being the sole provider for a family or because of a medical condition.

David Olson, spokesperson for the Boise National Forest, said Cutting Edge was hired under a $92,000 contract to reforest 834 acres with 20,000 seedlings in a remote area about three hours from Boise. The reforestation contract was part of an ongoing effort to reforest land scorched by a fire in 2003.

"They planted in areas ranging from ridge tops to steep slopes," he said. The terrain was so rugged that workers had to be transported to the reforestation site by helicopter.

As part of the contract, Olson said the company is required to meet the nation's laws, but the contract also specifies workers' conditions, how they're paid, how they're treated and how they're housed.

Olson said he led a media tour of the reforestation effort last year. "There were predominately Hispanics up there," he said.

An inspection of Cutting Edge's work last year showed the company did a good job with the reforestation, he said.

"Our prime interest is to insure the trees are planted correctly," he said.

With no workers to continue the planting, Olson said his office is working with Cutting Edge to get replacements as soon as possible.

Cutting Edge declined requests for an interview Thursday.

Patty Burel, Forest Service spokeswoman in Medford, said Cutting Edge had a $31,000 contract to clear slash in the Illinois Valley in 2005, but that was the only local work she had any knowledge of.

"They performed that well," she said. "They were a responsible contractor."

Burel said every contract is sent to three state agencies for review. In Oregon, contractors have to have a state labor license and a migrant seasonal labor license.

Also, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service contacts her office periodically to receive updates on contractors who work on reforestation projects.

"The INS are the folks that are the making the determinations," she said. "They are the ones doing the policing."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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