Feds seek $175K from two trucking firms in Cooper case

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The U.S. Justice Department moved this week to seize $175,000 gained by two trucking companies as a result of the visa fraud scheme that sent former state representative Nathan Cooper to federal prison.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court, the government laid claim to $50,000 from Cal-Ark International Inc. of Little Rock, Ark., and $125,000 from Pullen Brothers Inc. and Coldway Logistics Inc., two Sikeston, Mo., companies owned by Jerry Pullen.

In the case of both companies, assistant federal prosecutor Andrew Lay is seeking to seize money the companies have already turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the course of settlement negotiations.

"It is easier and different than a criminal case because we are not trying to prove a person did something criminal, just that they received proceeds from transactions that were criminal, which these certainly are," Lay said. The proceeds, he said, were received as a result of "Nathan Cooper and his lies to government agencies that certain employees were seasonal."

In the complaint filed this week, Lay alleges that Cal-Ark benefited by fraudulently using seasonal work visas to illegally employ 59 foreign truck drivers during 2005. In the case of Pullen Brothers and Coldway Logistics, Lay alleges the company illegally employed "approximately 50 truck-driving aliens" during 2005.

Cooper is serving a 15-month term in federal prison in Marion, Ill., for his role in setting up the scheme. Cooper, acting as the attorney for the two companies, sought temporary, seasonal work visas for permanent, full-time drivers and set up sham companies to mask the true employers of the drivers.

No criminal charges

Neither Pullen Brothers nor Cal-Ark face criminal charges, but assistant federal prosecutor Jim Crowe, who prosecuted Cooper, declined to say why neither company was charged.

"We either charge a criminal case or we don't," Crowe said.

Attorney Allen Dobson of Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C., in Little Rock, Ark., represented Cal-Ark in negotiations with the government. He declined to comment.

Pullen Brothers was represented by Jeff Demerath of Armstrong, Teasdale LLP of St. Louis. Demerath could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Crowe did not rule out additional attempts to reclaim the profits earned by other companies that may have benefited from the illegal labor Cooper arranged. "There are potentially more civil actions, maybe a couple of other businesses down there," he said. "Those are in negotiation right now."

He declined to name the businesses involved.

In addition to his prison term, Cooper paid a $6,000 fine and forfeited $50,000 to cover the estimated gain he received for handling the paperwork to make the alien truck drivers appear legal.

The financial demand from Cal-Ark is significantly lower than the amount sought from Pullen Brothers, a result of a more cooperative attitude by that company during the course of the investigation, Crowe said.

"From a cooperation standpoint they were more open with us," Crowe said. "We react well to that."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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