JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri trial judge Wednesday ordered the state to pay $152,000 for illegally terminating a janitorial company's state contracts when the firm was targeted by an immigration sting.
Cole County Judge Richard Callahan concluded the company could not have known some employees were illegal immigrants and ordered the payment for breach of contract. Callahan also ordered the state to remove the company from a list of firms ineligible for future state contracts.
Missouri canceled nine contracts with Oklahoma-based Sam's Janitorial Services after state and federal authorities detained about two dozen of the company's Jefferson City workers during a March 2007 immigration sting. The janitorial service, which also cleaned buildings in Kansas City and Columbia, was then banned from applying for new state contracts.
On the night of the raid, then-Gov. Matt Blunt called a news conference and signed an executive order that directed state agencies to cancel any contract with companies found to employ illegal immigrants.
Ultimately, only a few of the janitors caught in the sting were found guilty or pleaded guilty to any crimes.
Company owner Kwabena Asamoah-Boadu sued in 2007 and testified during an October trial that he checked his employees' documents and did not knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Asamoah-Boadu also provided state officials with some documents so that employees could clean secure buildings.
Callahan concluded that law enforcement eventually found irregularities in the paperwork of some employees using information that would not have been available to Asamoah-Boadu.
"Sadly, one can only conclude that the need for scapegoats is embedded in our society just as deeply as the need for heroes," Callahan said.
State contracts are handled by Missouri's Office of Administration. An agency spokeswoman said Wednesday that attorneys were reviewing the decision and declined to comment.
An attorney who represented Asamoah-Boadu did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
During the trial, the state defended terminating the contracts because Sam's Janitorial Services was required to follow local, state and federal laws. Another clause allowed contracts to be ended without notice if laws were broken, and the state argued the immigration raid led to a reasonable belief that a federal law was violated.
Asamoah-Boadu, 64, emigrated from Ghana in 1972 and eventually settled in Oklahoma. He moved to Missouri in 2002 after winning state cleaning contracts and employed 70 to 80 people.
Asamoah-Boadu testified in October that his personal finances have suffered from the loss of contracts, which resulted in the loss of vehicles and the foreclosure of his home. He reported making about $150,000 per year through the business but estimated bringing in only $36,880 from July 2007 through September 2009.