Widening earlier claims of immigration fraud at the Tesla factory, a recently unsealed whistleblower suit says several other major automakers, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volkswagen, illegally used foreign construction workers to build their U.S. factories.
A San Jose Mercury News investigation, “The Hidden Workforce Expanding Tesla’s Factory,” and court documents revealed at least 140 foreign workers on questionable business visas worked on the factory expansion for as little as $5 an hour.
The suit alleges the companies created or helped promote the delivery of “false and fraudulent documents to the United States to secure illegal visas for their direct and indirect employees to come to the United States.”
Tesla and Mercedes denied the claims. An Eisenmann spokesman said the company complies with U.S. immigration laws.
The suit could face an uphill battle, said David Silbert, a San Francisco attorney who has represented whistleblowers. False claims, or “qui tam,” suits are traditionally brought to expose fraud against the government. A common example is a contractor filing fraudulent bills to the government.
Silbert said false claims suits allow private citizens to bring a case on behalf of the government and share in any recovered funds. An employee typically shows proof that the government has been defrauded through contracts and invoices.
Whistleblowers will often drop suits if the government declines to intervene, he said, adding that “every case is different.”
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