SEPTEMBER 08, 2009
The chief of staff that Florida’s governor appointed as U.S. Senator heads a law firm embroiled in several scandals, including securing visas for Mexican construction workers by persuading the State Department that the foreigners had special skills that Americans didn’t.
Florida’s newly appointed U.S. Senator, George LeMieux, hasn’t even been sworn in and already multiple allegations of cronyism have infested his meteoric political rise in the Sunshine State. The 40-year-old largely unknown lawyer gained notoriety when Republican Governor Charlie Crist picked him to replace Mel Martinez, who retired before completing his term.
LeMieux was Crist’s chief of staff and he’s also the chairman of a Florida-based law firm that specializes in helping companies hire foreigners—who work for less money—replace American workers inside the U.S. An investigative reporter for a south Florida television station revealed that the new senator’s firm secured dozens of visas for Mexicans to help construct a hotel and condominiums in an upscale beach neighborhood known as Bal Harbour.
As a result American sheet metal workers were left out of a job at a time of rising unemployment that included more than 2,000 sheet metal workers in south Florida. The new senator’s firm represented a Mexican sheet metal company that wanted to bring its own workforce into the U.S. and to obtain visas, it fraudulently argued that America workers weren’t available for the new project.
The type of visa that soon-to-be-Senator LeMieux (he gets sworn in this week) secured for the Mexicans is reserved for foreigners that possess unique skills unavailable in American workers. The State Department specifically states that the visas are issued only to “persons of extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.” Executives of major corporations could also qualify as well as those who possess highly specialized skills essential to the efficient operation of a firm. Mexican sheet metal workers clearly don’t meet the criteria.
LeMieux’s political connections also helped his law firm land a half a million-dollar contract to represent Florida’s transportation department and a secret deal to negotiate a lucrative gambling contract with an Indian tribe that was subsequently found to be unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court. Now those strong connections have landed him in the U.S. Senate.
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