ARTICLE

Former Iowa City business owner sentenced for harboring illegal aliens

Numerous undocumented workers found at Hiawatha work site

Samira Zuniga
Samira Zuniga

A woman who owned a construction company in Iowa City and pleaded guilty in August to harboring and conspiring to harbor aliens has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

Samira Zuniga, 34, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Guatemala and former owner of Iowa City-based Xtreme Construction Company, was arrested in June on suspicion of harboring and employing roofers from Mexico who were charged in April with immigrant violations.

Marion police in April pulled over a van registered to Zuniga and found Antonio Zuniga, her husband, and other unidentified Hispanic men inside, according to an affidavit of the criminal complaint. Homeland Security Investigations agents on April 26 arrested nine roofers who were working on a job in Hiawatha for Xtreme Construction.

Although Samira Zuniga is a naturalized U.S. citizen, Antonio Zuniga – who is listed as a “signer” on a bank account for Xtreme Construction – is an illegal immigrant and isn’t authorized to work in the United States, according to the affidavit.

Samira Zuniga filed a petition for Antonio Zuniga to adjust his illegal status, court documents show. That petition was approved, but Antonio Zuniga never was issued an employment authorization document, according to court documents.

Six of the illegal immigrants who were arrested testified before a federal grand jury on June 7 that they worked for Antonio Zuniga, who knew they were illegal immigrants, according to the affidavit. They testified that their boss drove them from their apartment to work and back home, paid them in cash and also covered a portion of their rent, the affidavit states.

Two of the workers said they were Antonio Zuniga’s cousins and they were paid in cash and never completed paperwork. The workers also said they knew Samira Zuniga and she, on occasion, would drive them to work.

Within three days of the roofers’ arrests, Samira Zuniga and her husband withdrew more than $17,000 in multiple transactions from multiple bank accounts and fled to Mexico with their two children, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Samira Zuniga’s children and husband have not returned to Iowa City, but authorities on June 20 found Zuniga back in town, according to the Attorney’s Office. Investigators believe she crossed the Mexican border on June 18 with two elderly couples and was found emptying the contents of her trailer home into a van and cargo trailer, the Attorney’s Office reported.

Zuniga told people she was planning to move with her family to Mexico, according to authorities, but she was arrested June 21. Zuniga pleaded guilty Aug. 29 to one count of harboring and transporting an alien and one count of conspiracy to transport, harbor, encourage and induce alien to live in the United States.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade sentenced Zuniga to 18 months in prison, plus a special assessment of $200. Reade at sentencing increased Zuniga’s sentence after determining that she had tried to obstruct justice by misrepresenting facts to the court and probation office and by helping her husband flee potential prosecution.

After completing her sentence, Zuniga must serve a three-year term of supervised release.

Zuniga is being held in the U.S. Marshal’s custody until she can be transported to a federal prison.