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PHOENIX -- A criminal case against a metro Phoenix car-wash chain accused of immigration fraud in its hiring practices has resulted in guilty pleas for half of the people arrested in a huge summertime raid, and more cases could be resolved in the coming weeks.

So far, seven of the 14 Danny's Family Car Wash managers charged as part of an investigation into the hiring of workers who were in the country illegally have pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge. Location manager Humberto Dominguez pleaded guilty Monday.

Change-of-plea hearings are expected next month for two other lower level managers.

Ever since the raid, questions have lingered about the extent to which upper management and ownership at the company knew or played a role in the hiring practices that federal authorities allege. All but one member of the company's top brass have been untouched by the case.

Five lower-level managers have said in pleas that at least one higher-up instructed them to rehire workers who had to be fired after a federal audit found nearly half of the company's 1,900-person workforce had presented insufficient or ineligible records when they were hired.

Jack Edlund, identified as Danny's general manger of operations, is the highest-ranking member of the company to be charged. Edlund has pleaded not guilty. A call to his attorney wasn't immediately returned.

Federal immigration authorities who carried out the raid said the two-year investigation targets the owners, corporate leadership and management of Danny's.

The company is led by Danny Hendon, a prominent figure in the Phoenix business community. Edward Novak, an attorney representing the company, declined to discuss details of the case, but said it is cooperating with federal authorities.

The bust by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reflects a new approach by federal authorities in confronting employers suspected of hiring people who aren't legally in the country.

The approach focuses on auditing employment eligibility documents and making criminal cases against company officials. The focus on criminal cases was made after authorities concluded that some violators viewed potential civil penalties as the cost of doing business.

Associated Press,

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