I-9 Audits: Problems for Horse Trainer Dale Romans


Emptech's founder, Jeff Aleixo


Jeff Aleixo


Dale Romans, an accomplished horse trainer and Eclipse Award winner, has been fined $150,000 after an I-9 audit and is currently appealing the ruling. Romans, who typically has as many as 75 employees at any time between his racetrack operations and his Lexington farm, was found to have issues with 58 employees over an unspecified period of time.  In short, an average fine of over $2,500 per employee that I-9 audits can result in.

Dale Romans’ career wins tally up at over 1,000 and counting. Unfortunately, he has taken a huge loss related to poor I-9 management.

Surge of I-9 Audits

In 2007, there were well under 300 I-9 audits. In 2012, there were over 3,000. With I-9 inspections occurring at a constantly-increasing pace, being audited is a position that more and more employers find themselves in together with facing substantial fines for various employment verification fines. There are so many ways to foul-up the Form I-9, and when you multiply that by your total number of employees, the odds are stacked against an employer coming out ahead in an audit scenario.

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Finding a Way to Be Proactive and Learning from the Missteps of Others

The current violations Romans is facing are related to a 2011 I-9 audit, including fines for allegedly missing I-9s, improperly completed I-9s, and failure to respond. Penalties range from $100 to $1,100 per violation, which adds up quickly. In Romans’ case, he says he failed to receive three notice of violations, which were sent to his home rather than work address. Because he did not receive the notifications, he missed out on an opportunity to correct any problems.

Avoid Romans’ Mistakes:

  • Make sure your address of record is correct.
  • Conduct an audit of your I-9 records before the federal agencies come a-knocking. You often have an opportunity to correct problems with your I-9s. Ideally, before they occur in the first place, and next-best, carefully and within the letter of the law prior to audit. The worst scenario is to let potential problems sit unaddressed until you are audited.
  • Buckle-down on I-9 processes from on-boarding to post-exit record maintenance. In the past, if you were audited once you would not necessarily be audited again for a few years, but now being audited by one agency in one year can open you up to increased risk of audit for additional years and by multiple agencies.
  • Make sure you properly understand the law. Romans is quoted in Bloodhorse.com article saying this was just a paperwork issue. The problem with many employers is a lack of understanding that I-9 audits do in fact now very much focus on technical errors and paperwork issues, and that employers will be held responsible for not having necessary I-9s. Violations are in fact illegal. The sooner that more employers realize this, the better they will be able to avoid bleeding out money to pay for costly I-9 violations.
  • Romans admits to Bloodhorse.com that attempting to handle the 2011 audit without seeking professional representation was “where we made the biggest mistake.” Because of an inability to adequately understand employer obligations related to I-9 and therefore accurately assess his risk, Romans ended up with an expensive lesson to learn.

Employers need to save their own business trouble and expense by learning from these mistakes and not underestimating I-9 audits.

Learn how to establish I-9 compliance in the most efficient, secure and simple way with the help of this comprehensive employment verification guide.

Update on I-9 Audits

Recently, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been aggressively pursuing I-9 inspections and imposing record fines. This ongoing government enforcement efforts reveal the importance of employers having a robust and compliant employment eligibility verification program. Otherwise, they may face costly fines for not paying attention to their immigration and employment eligibility verification obligations.

Since January, 2018, I-9 audit notices were served to more than 5,200 businesses. This confirms that Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) intention to increase the number of I-9 audits in an effort to create a culture of compliance among employers. Therefore, it is imperative for every employer to pay close attention to I-9 compliance and learn how to avoid I-9 mistakes that may cause them to face civil fines and potential criminal liability for employment verification misconduct.

Take control of your I-9 compliance and prevent potential errors by replacing complicated paperwork with fully customizable I-9 solution.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Disclaimer: This article is general in nature and is not intended to replace the guidance of an employment tax expert and/or legal professional with regards to an appropriate course of action in your particular circumstances. Please consult with a professional for appropriate advice in your case. Pursuant to IRS “Circular 230” rules, any information included herewithin is not intended or written to be used for the purpose of avoiding penalties under the federal Internal Revenue Code.