7 things you need to do if your business is raided by law enforcement
By Ebony Chappel
On March 2, five people were arrested on prostitution and drug charges at the El Bohemio bar in Indianapolis after being served a warrant based on the findings of a joint undercover investigation by Indiana Excise Police and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Last fall, officials from the Indiana State Police, Indiana Excise Police and local law enforcement authorities raided El Rodeo, El Jaripeo and La Carreta Mexican restaurants throughout the state, from Indianapolis to Vincennes and Schererville. In addition, law enforcement officials also raided the homes of some of the restaurants’ owners.
In February, the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor’s Office filed a civil forfeiture suit, seeking to hold on to more than $3.4 million confiscated in the raids.
Around the same time as the restaurant raids, FBI agents walked into the municipal offices at Lake Station with a warrant, ordered all employees to step away from their computers and downloaded content from the city servers. The raid was part of an ongoing investigation of Mayor Keith Soderquist.
In neither instance, were the subjects of the raids given an indication of what was being sought and the potential charges they faced.
Though it’s an unpleasant prospect, any business faces the possibility of being raided or simply being served a warrant in an often abrupt, unannounced action taken by law enforcement officials. Although in certain cases raids on businesses may be prompted by suspected illegal activity on the part of ownership, other instances can be brought on by the actions of an employee.
“Unannounced raids happen to businesses that employ a high percentage of foreign workers more regularly than others,” said Thomas Ruge, managing director at the law firm of Lewis & Kappes, P.C.
“Sometimes, they send a notice requesting to have a look at employer’s books ahead of time,” he said. ”Other times, a random enforcement action will occur. Often a disgruntled employee or a complaint prompts this.”
Unfortunately, any business, regardless of employment make-up, can fall victim, even those who haven’t committed any crimes. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes businesses as having the same rights as individuals, so regardless of the reasons behind a raid, proper search and seizure procedures must be followed by law enforcement.
Here are seven things you should know about protecting your business in the event of a raid:
- Call the company lawyer and ask that he or she come immediately to inform you of your rights and responsibilities.
- Cooperate, especially if they have a warrant.
- Take a moment to read a warrant to familiarize yourself with the scope of its inquiry. Employers are not required to comply with requests that are beyond the bounds of an official document, such as a warrant.
- Assign a designated liaison to handle such situations, should they arise. This individual should be upper-level management with the ability to speak with officers in a professional, calm demeanor.
- Refrain from “scripting” your employees on what to say.
- Go over I-9 forms and employment records regularly. Ruge said one key action employers could do to protect themselves is to perform an audit of employment records. He said that his firm assists employers with audits, and they often find errors.
- Don’t attempt to “back-date” or otherwise alter employment records. If you find an error in employment records, its best to just admit you’re ill-prepared as opposed to attempting to mislead officials about their contents.