W.Va. Fire Marshal busts bogus would-be electricians

CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – More than a dozen individuals who traveled to Charleston this week to take the state electrician’s exam were instead arrested on federal charges alleging they are in the U.S. illegally.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal became suspicious of several exam applications received earlier this month. The investigation and increased scrutiny that resulted flagged several additional applications. Fire Marshal investigators coordinated with Enforcement and Removal Operations at U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement. This joint effort led a targeted enforcement operation at the Oct. 6 exam site and the arrest of 14 unlawfully present individuals.

“The men and women of ICE have the vital role of arresting and removing criminal aliens, and we will continue to perform our duty as intended by Congress with integrity, courage, and professionalism.” said ERO Philadelphia Field Office Director Simona L. Flores-Lund. “ICE will continue to work with our law enforcement partners like West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office to vigorously investigate individuals attempting to circumvent immigration laws.”

The Fire Marshal’s Office administers and enforces the state’s electrical licensing program. Several fellow agencies within the W.Va. Department of Homeland Security assisted in this case: the W.Va. State Police, W.Va. Fusion Center, and Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Charleston Police and the city’s Homeland Security office aided the operation as well.

“This case underscores the importance of safety rules that protect the public,” said State Fire Marshal Ken Tree. “Besides the threat from unsafe or hazardous work performed, there is the potential for further fraud and compromise of the licensing process. West Virginia’s electrical licensing program has reciprocity with several other states, and this could compromise their respective programs.”

Four individuals were similarly arrested and charged in November 2019, after showing up to take the exam after allegedly lying on their applications. Their cases are slated for presentation to a grand jury.

“When Gov. Justice reorganized the new Department of Homeland Security, his goal was to partner with all federal agencies and have them work cooperatively with state agencies to protect our state and country from threats to our national security,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy said. “Working as a cooperative effort, this investigation led by the State Fire Marshal’s Office uncovered individuals who were not even United States citizens but were attempting to obtain an electrician’s certification. These arrests have major implications for U.S. law enforcement, since the test-takers were illegal aliens and their use for the certification is unknown. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, immigration document and benefit fraud are crimes that threaten the national security and public safety of the U.S. by creating a vulnerability which potentially enables terrorists, other criminals and illegal aliens to gain entry to and remain in the United States. It also threatens the integrity of the lawful immigration system.”

Tyler Barker
Tyler Barker is currently the News Director and Digital Content Manager for WOAY-TV. He was promoted to this job in Mid-November. He still will fill in on weather from time to time. You can follow Tyler on Facebook and Twitter @wxtylerb. Have any news tips or weather questions? Email him at tbarker@woay.com