Charges: Twin Cities contractor threatened to report undocumented workers if they complained
A Twin Cities contractor has been charged with bringing undocumented workers to Minnesota and then threatening to report them to immigration officials if they complained about being underpaid and working in dangerous job conditions.
Ricardo E. Batres, who operates Crystal-based American Contractors, was charged Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court with felony counts of labor trafficking, theft by swindle and insurance fraud.
Batres knew the men that he had employed were undocumented workers and used that knowledge as leverage to force them to work long hours for less than market pay and without adequate safety protections, the charges read. When workers were injured, [Batres] told his employees that they would lose their jobs and be deported if they sought medical attention.
Multiple workers were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents last summer, according to the charges. Some were deported, while those who remained received false promises from Batres of legal representation.
Fraud investigators also allege that Batres forced one employee to work for him through a combination of threats of physical restraint and other means.
One worker suffered spinal fractures when a prefabricated wall fell on him, the charges read. Batres tried to have him go to a massage therapist, the complaint continued. Co-workers intervened, and Batres took the worker to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he was fitted for a body cast and remains in therapy.
Because Batres failed to buy workers compensation insurance, the employees medical bills were paid with more than $45,000 from government programs rather than insurance.
Messages were left Wednesday with the 46-year-old Batres seeking his response to the allegations.
The number of workers involved has varied but peaked at 12 in the summer of 2017, the charges read. Their work involved finishing wood framing and wallboard installation in Golden Valley, Bloomington, Maple Grove and elsewhere in the state.
Among the allegations, some employees:
Worked up to six stories high without proper safety equipment.
Worked 10 and 12-hour days and on weekends without overtime.
Were sent to a massage therapist/traditional healer for treatment of injuries.
Were put in a crowded house by Batres in Bloomington with no hot water.
Authorities searched Batres home and business and seized time cards and payroll documents and arrested Batres. Prosecutors are seeking bail of $200,000.
A spokesman for a large labor activist group in the Twin Cities said Batres company is hired by at least two of the Twin Cities largest construction companies. Fernando Nuandntilde;ez, communications director for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha, said these developers appear to be cutting corners by using unscrupulous contractors in order to increase their profit margin. Messages were left Wednesday with those builders, Reuter Walton and Lennar, seeking to learn more about their relationship with American Contractors.
Paul Walsh 612-673-4482