Trying to find replacements has proved futile, he said. Five new hires quit last week, and "what's left out there can't pass a drug test."
"I don't want to hire illegal guys. We've got too much to risk," he said. "But trust me, I can see why guys would want to go that way. I can totally understand these guys who might think they can beat the system."
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that it expects to charge the 114 workers arrested last week at Corso's Flower & Garden Center with identity theft and tax evasion and that the employer also is under investigation.
Corso's released a statement Friday saying it demands proper documentation from its employees and ensures they pay taxes. It also said that if anyone used false identification documents to get a job, the company was not aware.
Landscapers in Ohio were quick to point out that the workers were not among those with H2-B visas, who undergo background checks and are legally cleared to work.
Critics of the program say too many employers violate the program's spirit by filling jobs that aren't temporary or seasonal in nature, such as landscaping companies in warm weather states.
"So it is easier and sometimes cheaper to hire H2-Bs than it is to find available U.S. workers," said Jessica Vaughan, director of Policy Studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors reducing immigration.
But Tamar Jacoby, president of business coalition ImmigrationWorks USA, said employers in immigrant-heavy industries have been "crushed for labor as the economy has recovered."
Unlike other industries, landscapers can rely on H2-B visas to some extent, but jobs are still hard to fill. "It's hot out there, it's wet, there are mosquitoes, there are brambles," Jacoby said.
Many landscapers are in a Catch-22 because they can't find enough domestic labor, said Amy Novak, a Colorado-based immigration attorney specializing in temporary worker visas.
"They have no option, really, other than to decrease their business contracts or use undocumented workers, and that is not a good choice," she said.
Immigration crackdowns could give Congress the impression that employers are trying to take advantage of the system by hiring unauthorized workers, Novak said — or it could help by showing that employers are not able to find the workers they need.
"Because of immigration, H2-B has become a political football," said Jerry Schill, a co-owner of Schill Grounds Management in North Ridgeville, not far from Sandusky.
The companies that hire people in the country illegally only add to the negative perception of seasonal workers, he said.
"It makes our battle that much more difficult," Schill said. "When you're faced with adversity, it doesn't give you a license to cheat."