After two people were killed in a bus crash that was caused by an illegal immigrant, two Republican elected officials were dragged into the story after it was discovered that they own a staffing company that hired the driver. Additionally, the recruiter for the staffing company has been discovered to also be an illegal alien. The driver who was hired by the recruiter is now being held on negligent homicide charges in the deaths of two men in Louisiana.
The recruiter, Edgar Emilio Rueda Betancourth, used fraudulent documents in 2011 to obtain a Louisiana driver’s license, according to a state police report. He then established a business and registered with Louisiana’s Secretary of State. He thereby set himself up as a labor recruiter, subcontracted to WRS Inc., which is in turn owned by two Republican officials.
Rueda was retained by WRS Inc. on August 28 to provide a 24-man crew of workers to perform flood cleanup work and interior demolition in Baton Rouge commercial properties in the wake of last month’s disastrous flooding. On August 28, a bus that was provided by Kristina’s Transportation was traveling on I-10 in Louisiana and crashed into an accident scene on the side of the freeway, killing a popular local fire chief and a Mississippi man. The driver had a history of poor driving.
Rueda had been operating his business under the name North American Cleaning Crew LLC. After applying for residential and commercial contractor licenses in 2014, he never completed the process with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors. Undeterred, Rueda he had already received permits for his company to do several jobs in New Orleans, including for a large interior demolition project in 2013.
The owner of WRS is David Wallace, a Republican state representative in Arkansas. He told the New Orleans Advocate last week that his company had always made certain that workers Rueda provided had work status.
According to attorney Jesse Wimberly, St. Tammany Parish constable Eddie Schmidt, who is a co-owner of WRS, had no idea that Rueda was an illegal immigrant despite years of working with him. According to Wimberly, who is representing Schmidt, Rueda utilized a federal tax identification number and other federal documents to convince his client that he had status to work legally in the United States. Schmidt’s company paid in excess of $10,000 since 2014 to North American Cleaning Crew to broker their labor. That does not include the payments Schmidt’s other companies made to Rueda. Schmidt and Rueda had been associated for a number of years.
In Rueda’s 2014 application for a commercial contractor’s license, he lists three companies he had been subcontracting for, and two of them, DR Services and Command Center, were companies affiliated with Schmidt, Wallace or their partners.
Wimberly said Rueda had a federal Employer Identification Number for North American Cleaning Crew, which WRS thought was proof of legal immigration status. But the immigration agency says that tax identification number is easily procured from the IRS without proof of citizenship.
“Did they know he was here illegally? Or was it just a wink and a nod and, ‘Oh, OK, you have this paperwork. That’s good so we’ll just move with that’?” asked former federal prosecutor Chick Foret in an interview with WWL-TV News.
Rueda has been stopped by police multiple times in the past without a valid driver’s license. He was also arrested once for allegedly trying to obtain a driver’s license fraudulently from the State of Louisiana. In 2009, he was involved in a collision in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, and received a citation for driving a vehicle with a New Mexico license more than six months after residing in Louisiana.
Even the New Mexico license may have been fraudulent. Two years later, Rueda applied at the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles in Westwego, Louisiana, and used a Puerto Rican birth certificate and a Social Security card bearing someone else’ name, according to a Louisiana state police report. State Police Sgt. Pat Bradley reported that Rueda admitted that he was not the person listed on the documents and that he had purchased them in an effort to get a Louisiana driver’s license.
Because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, persons born there received American citizenship automatically, just as they do on the mainland. This explains why Rueda may have resorted to the use of a Puerto Rican birth certificate.
As for the tragic crash of last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is investigating and has put a deportation hold on bus driver Denis Yasmir Amaya Rodriguez (37) of Honduras. He is facing charges of negligent homicide, negligent injuring, reckless operation, and driving without a license in the August 28 crash. He claimed that the brakes on the bus malfunctioned and contributed to the crash. State police noted that he did not flee from the scene and instead remained to help with the wounded. Approximately 40 people were injured. Two firemen were thrown over a guardrail on the side of the freeway and hurtled into a canal below. Fellow firefighters rescued them with a ladder from their fire truck.
However, Rueda is not wanted so far for his role in the fatal crash.
Both of Louisiana’s U.S. senators and Attorney General Jeff Landry have questioned how Amaya had managed to stay in the country illegally after five violations for driving without a license and an arrest for domestic abuse battery in 2011. Criminal charges in the latter case were dropped. Those same questions may also apply to Rueda, who has also had several run-ins with the law for his driving and use of fraudulent documentation.
Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick charged Rueda with using fraudulent documents for identification purposes, but the criminal charge was eventually dropped. A year later, Rueda was pulled over and charged with driving without a license.