Published By:Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Stringer nails contractor who stole $1.7 million from immigrant workers
After getting away with stealing money from his immigrant employees’ paychecks for years, a major contractor who worked city projects across the five boroughs was slapped on Monday with a $3.2 million fine and barred from doing business with the city and state for five years.
A six-year investigation carried out by the New York City Comptroller’s Office used undercover video, subpoenas, union records and a city agency paper trail to uncover the kickback scheme, Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement on Monday.
Stringer said K.S. Contracting Corporation and its owner, Paresh Shah, cheated dozens of immigrant workers out of their pay and benefits.
Shah told the city he was paying his workers the prevailing wages required under the New York State Labor Law. In reality, however, only about half of the workers received paychecks. Those who did were required to cash the checks and then surrender the money to company supervisors. Those supervisors would take a cut and then redistribute the leftover cash to employees , including those who did not receive paychecks, paying them at rates significantly below prevailing wages.
Before getting their money, many of the workers were required to sign a paper stating that they were, in fact, being paid the prevailing wage.
One supervisor was surreptitiously filmed in the act of counting workers’ surrendered cash in the front seat of his car. (See video at brooklyneagle.com.)
K.S. Contracting reported that it paid its workers combined wage and benefit rates starting at $50 per hour (or roughly $400 a day plus benefits) but actually paid daily cash salaries starting at just $90 per day and going, in some cases, as high as $200.
Part of the paper trail the Comptroller’s Office investigators uncovered in building a case against K.S. Contracting Corporation. Photo courtesy of the Office of the ComptrollerPart of the paper trail the Comptroller’s Office investigators uncovered in building a case against K.S. Contracting Corporation. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Comptroller
Between August 2008 and November 2011, the company cheated at least 36 workers out of $1.7 million in wages and benefits on seven New York City public works projects. The majority of the workers were immigrants of Latino, South Asian, or West Indian descent.
Stringer said that the need to stand up for immigrants was especially important in the time of President Trump.
“Contractors might think they can take advantage of immigrants, but today we’re sending a strong message: my office will fight for every worker in New York City,” he said.
The brazen scheme had gone on for years; an employee first filed a complaint with the office in May 2010.
K.S. Contracting was named as one of the worst wage theft violators in New York in a report by the Center for Popular Democracy in 2015. The full details of what was going on came out at a four-day administrative trial in May 2016.
The company, incorporated in New Jersey, was awarded more than $21 million in contracts by the city’s Departments of Design and Construction, Parks and Recreation and Sanitation between 2007 and 2010. Projects included the District 15 Sanitation Garage and the Barbara S. Kleinman Men’s Residence in Brooklyn, the Morrisania Health Center in the Bronx, the 122 Community Center in Manhattan, the North Infirmary Command Building on Rikers Island, Bronx River Park, and various city sidewalks in Queens.
K.S. Contracting is not the only contractor to rip off its immigrant employees. Since taking office in 2014, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer’s Bureau of Labor Law has assessed more than $20 million and barred 40 contractors from state and city contracts due to prevailing wage violations, according to the Comptroller’s Office.
A number of workers’ rights groups and immigrant organizations praised the comptroller’s investigation.
"At a time when exploitative employers are feeling increasingly emboldened by Trump’s hateful rhetoric, it is imperative that our city's leaders are taking a strong stance in defense of immigrant workers,” Deborah Axt, executive director of Make the Road New York, said in a statement.
“Too many employers in New York City exploit minority and immigrant workers. And it’s no secret that many immigrant workers are fearful of retaliation for standing up for their rights, especially in an environment where they are afraid of being deported,” said Lowell Barton, organizing director of Laborers Local 1010, LiUNA!
By Mary Frost