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, 46, 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. Some were deported.
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.
Because Batres failed to buy workers’ compensation insurance, the employee’s medical bills were paid with more than $45,000 from government programs rather than insurance.
Messages were left Wednesday with Batres seeking his response to the allegations.
The number of workers involved 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.
Authorities searched Batres’ home and business and seized 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 was hired by at least two of the Twin Cities’ largest construction companies. Fernando Nuñez, communications director for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), said these developers “appear to be cutting corners by using unscrupulous contractors in order to increase their profit margin.”
The builders named by CTUL are Reuter Walton and Lennar.
Lennar spokeswoman Danielle Tocco said one of the company's subcontractors -- and not Lennar -- hired American Contractors. Asked to identify that subcontractor, Tocco said, "We are not giving the name of the subcontractor."
In a statement, Reuter Walton said it had no knowledge of the allegations and also never contracted with Batres or his company. It later learned that a subcontractor hired American Contractors without disclosing it, the statement continued.
“Labor trafficking is a very serious matter, and Reuter Walton will cooperate fully with all authorities if and when it is asked to do so,” the statement added.
A Reuter Walton spokesperson would not disclose to the Star Tribune the identity of that subcontractor.
Efforts to reach Lennar were not successful.