Mar. 23—A federal jury in Portland has acquitted four Iraqi immigrants charged with undertaking a wage-fixing scheme in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The four men, who owned and operated home health care agencies during the pandemic, were indicted in January 2022. The jury reached a verdict Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Faysal Kalayaf Manahe, Yaser Aali, Ammar Alkinani and Qasim Saesah, all of Maine, were each charged with conspiracy in restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Their trial began March 8 and Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. presided.
The U.S. Department of Justice accused the four men, all U.S. citizens, of a wage-fixing scheme. The government alleged the men conspired to eliminate competition for employees by agreeing to fix the rates paid to workers and agreeing not to hire them away from one another.
Federal investigators alleged that the men, who managed individual home health agencies, made a secret pact to pay workers $15 or $16 per hour, despite the state's higher reimbursement rate that would have increased the workers' pay to between $20.52 and $26.20 during the pandemic.
Thomas Marjerison represented Manahe during the trial. During a telephone interview Thursday night, he said the courtroom was packed with members of the Iraqi immigrant community, some of whom cried when Woodcock read the verdict. The jury deliberated for about 10 hours, Marjerison said.
"The jury understood that there was no intent to commit a Sherman Act violation and that our clients were trying to negotiate an uncertain regulatory environment in the middle of a global pandemic," Marjerison said in a statement. "It is difficult to understand why the DOJ felt the need to bring the weight of the federal government down on Iraqi immigrants who were doing the best they could running small home health care agencies when COVID first hit the United States."
Marjerison said there was no evidence brought by federal prosecutors to show that the Sherman Antitrust Act had been violated. He said the government's case rested entirely on a technicality.
"Initial coverage of this case brought shame and embarrassment to our clients and their families, all for a prosecution that was completely unwarranted," added Jonathan Goodman, a Scarborough attorney who represented Aali. "It was grossly unfair that our clients were prosecuted for a technical violation that the evidence did not support. The jury clearly understood that, and our clients are grateful to have been vindicated."
The U.S. Department of Justice assigned a prosecutor from San Francisco and two federal prosecutors from New York City's Antitrust Division to handle the case. But Nolan Mayther, Jena Tiernan and Philip Andriole did not respond Thursday to emails seeking comment on the outcome.
Portland-based attorney Neale Duffett represented Saesah. Duffett said it has been a privilege to work closely with the Iraqi community.
"They are an honest, hard working and friendly people, who got to see our justice system at its best," Duffett said.
Bruce Merrill represented Alkinani, the owner of Ocean Home Health LLC of Portland.
"Mr. Alkinani has lived with this indictment hanging over his head for the last year and a half," Merrill said. "He is grateful to have finally had his day in court where a jury vindicated what he and his fellow home healthcare owners were doing to keep their employees working and their customers served during the height of the global pandemic in 2020."
Home health care workers from the four agencies assisted people with daily tasks like dressing, bathing and eating. Their clients are often elderly or disabled or people who are otherwise unable to care for themselves.