The murder of a Garden City man leads investigators  to a  federal indictment, and the discovery of an operation that allegedly hired illegal immigrants to work at a tree removal company. 

Eliud Montoya  became a U.S. citizen in 2009, but his accused murderers are illegal aliens according to federal prosecutors.  The ringleader in the plot and scheme is Pablo Rangel Rubio, who reportedly made $3.5 million dollars from his scheme over the last 10 years. 

Montoya filed a complaint with the company, Wolf Tree months before going to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Aug. 17, 2017.  Montoya was gunned down near his home two days later.

The 37-page federal indictment unsealed last month says Rubio sold assumed identities to illegals, got them hired by the company, and even skimmed some of the pay from the illicit workers.  It details how Montoya complained to his employer, but the indictment says that complaint in writing ended up in Rubio’s hands, where he read it out loud, with Montoya in the room, to his crew of workers, many of whom were the illegal workers Montoya complained about.  The indictment says Rubio netted about $3.5 million dollars over the ten years the scheme was in operation.

The indictments says Wolf Tree, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Davey Tree Expert Company, contracted with Georgia Power to maintain and trim trees around utility lines in the Savannah area.  Holly Crawdord, a media relations specialist with Georgia Power issued this statement about the case: “Georgia Power has a contract with Wolf Tree, Inc., a national tree trimming service company based in Tennessee that serves utilities across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. Under the contract, Wolf Tree is responsible for verifying the identity and employment eligibility of their employees and operating in compliance with all employment laws and regulations.  At Georgia Power, we have a clear policy and contractual requirement that contractors must verify the identity and employment eligibility of all contractor employees.  Georgia Power also requires that contractors verify registration and utilization of the federal E-Verify program, and Wolf Tree verified its compliance.  We are aware of the allegations against Wolf Tree and its parent company, as well as the pending criminal indictments against certain former Wolf Tree employees.  We will closely monitor the developments in these cases and will take appropriate action as facts are established.  Wolf Tree should be contacted directly for any additional information,” Crawford replied via email.

A spokeswoman for Wolf Tree issued a statement about the case as well.  Erika Schoenberger writes the company is cooperating and “The death of any employee is tragic. Moreover, we are disturbed by the allegations regarding the sophisticated criminal enterprise that the government has uncovered in its investigation.  The Company is taking this matter very seriously,and remains committed to its ongoing cooperation with the federal government’s confidential investigation.

We strive to ensure that we hire people authorized to work in the United States. The Company has controls when hiring employees, including criminal background checks and use of the E-Verify system.  The Company does not condone or tolerate the hiring of unauthorized individuals.

We are fully cooperating with the investigating authorities.  However, as this is an active and confidential criminal investigation, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on this case.  We can say that we continue to urge our employees to communicate openly with us, and that we strictly prohibit any retaliatory action against anyone making a complaint.

Given the sensitivity of this matter and the legal issues involved, and respecting the legal rights of all those involved, we are unable to comment further at this time,” said Schoenberger.

News 3 reached out to the City of Savannah for any information they can provide about Wolf Tree or their parent company, The Davey Tree Expert Company.  Ken Slatkovsky, a spokesman for the city wrote, “We don’t have a business tax certificate in our system for Wolf Tree Service or Davey Tree Expert Company.  However, this is a large regional company that does business in several states, and shows service areas throughout the state of Georgia.  Within Georgia, a company is only required to have a business tax certificate in their primary location of service.  City of Savannah participates in the E-Verify reporting system and requires business tax certificate applicants to submit an affidavit which certified citizenship or lawful residency.  These documents are part of our application packet,”  Slatkovsky said.

Rubio, his brother Juan, and accused hit man, Higinio Perez-Bravo, remain behind bars facing charges of Conspiracy to Conceal, Harbor, and Sheild Illegal Aliens, Money Laundering, Conspiracy to Kill a Witness, Conspiracy to Commit Murder-for-Hire, and other charges.  The U.S. Justice Department unsealed the indictments December 13, 2018.  News 3 will continue to follow developments in the case.