A Tennessee meatpacking plant owner, sentenced for three federal felony counts and one misdemeanor, on July 31 promises to turn himself in to federal prison.

James Brantley, the owner of Southern Provision LLC, was sentenced to 18 months for each of three felony counts and six months for the misdemeanor. Judge J. Ronnie Greer, presiding judge for the U.S. District Court for Eastern Tennessee, ruled Brantley may serve the time concurrently.

He must also pay $1,423,588.00 in restitution.

Maximum penalties for the two tax felonies, a wire fraud violation, and the misdemeanor of employing unauthorized aliens might have sent Brantley, 62, to prison for more than 25 years.

Most of the action in the Brantley case occurred last year. It went public in April when agents of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided the Southern Provision slaughterhouse in Bean Station, TN, taking 104 undocumented aliens into custody.  The Bean Station establishment has operated under a grant of inspection from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service since 2004 for both meat slaughter and processing.

Tennessee’s most massive workplace raid since the 1990s ended with detention and deportment for Southern’s employees. And the IRS was preparing to charge Brantley with tax evasion.

By August 2018, U.S. attorneys and Brantley’s attorney Norman McKellar reached a plea agreement. In the document, Brantley admits hiring undocumented aliens as early as 1988.

The plea agreement describes how two managers were authorized to hire unauthorized aliens beginning in 2013. Brantley admits he knew that by hiring aliens, he could reduce his federal payroll and withholding tax obligations.

A third manager hired 20 years ago was himself an undocumented alien who overtime gained authority to hire employees for Southern Provision. From 2008 to 2018, Brantley admitted hiring about 150 undocumented aliens.

The hiring scheme reduced Southeastern’s expenses, including taxes, unemployment insurance premiums, and worker’s compensation premiums. More than 19 unassigned or invalid social security numbers were in use. Undocumented employees were paid $8 to $10 per hour, in cash with no extra for overtime.

These payments totaled about $25 million during the 2008-2018 period. Weekly withdrawals were made in cash from Citizen’s Bank to make payroll. These withdrawals reached $100,000 per week.

Hiring people not able to work legally in the United States saved Brantley millions, including an estimated $2.5 million in payroll taxes.  He signed quarterly federal payroll documents under the penalty of perjury, which were mostly fiction.

Sentencing judges recommend where an inmate should serve their time. Judge Greer’s Bureau of Prisons recommendation is to send Brantley to the minimum-security federal prison located on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL.

Club Fed, an unofficial federal prison site, says “Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama is where you want to go if you have to go to prison.”   The minimum security prison camp generally houses only non-violent offenders.

After he serves his time, Brantley’s supervised probation will run three years.

For now, Brantley is free until he gets the call from the Bureau of Prisons.

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