NewsLocal NewsCleveland Metro


Ex-employee says bosses at raided plant knew workers were undocumented

Explosive Allegations in Whistleblower Lawsuit
Posted at 6:47 PM, Jun 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-20 18:53:24-04

A former human resources administrator for Fresh Mark says not only were bosses at the company's Salem plant aware of undocumented workers, she says they told her to help cover it up.

Four Fresh Mark plants were raided by federal agents Monday and 146 workers were arrested for immigration violations.

For Cindy Kovick, it felt like vindication. 

"Hallelujah! Finally getting to see justice," said Kovick.

She worked at the Salem plant in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a human resources administrator. Part of her job was to sign-off on paperwork showing workers were who they said they were. 

But Kovick says in dozens of those cases the documents weren't worth the paper they were written on.

"There’d be whiteouts, you could tell it was copy and pasted," recalled Kovick. "Social security cards with bad typing on them."

She refused to sign-off on the documents, but says the requests from her bosses kept coming.

"They even asked me to change somebody’s identity overnight," said Kovick. "Brought me a whole new set of paperwork which I refused to sign."

Instead, she sent copies to immigration investigators and told her bosses.

That's when she was fired.

She laid out her allegations in a 2001 whistleblower lawsuit, but it was dismissed by a judge.

For years, Kovick feared nothing would change.

"Sad and pitiful that nothing was ever done," said Kovick.

Not even when workers would die in the company's plants.

According to OSHA records, it happened twice since 2011.

In both cases an investigator with the Stark County Coroner's Office says the dead workers had aliases, including a case in December.

The investigator said after family members told the coroner the man's true identity, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement asked for a set of the worker's fingerprints. The investigator said it was the first time in his 33 years with the office he could remember such a request from ICE.

This week the agency said it's examing evidence that Fresh Mark knowingly hired undocumented workers.

Kovick says it's about time.

"Laws are laws," she said. "Either change the law or enforce them. One or the other."

A spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the whistleblower's allegations. Instead she referred News 5's questions to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.