Thursday, November 12, 2009

Manhattan DA Demolishes $1 Million Construction Scheme: Contracting Company Caught Allegedly Defrauding Employees Pay

The Manhattan District Attorney announced the arrest and indictment earlier today of Michael Batalias, Elisavet Batalias, Vassiliki Stergiou and EMB Contracting Corporation for defrauding employees in the neighborhood of $1 million dollars. The defendants are charged with Grand Larceny in the First Degree and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. Moreover, Elisavet Batalias was charged with eleven counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree.
According to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office:

EMB Contracting Corp is a "general contractor providing labor in the rehabilitation/construction of 30 public schools throughout New York City. As provided by the New York State Labor Law, and under the terms of these contracts, EMB was required to pay all of the employees engaged in working on these contracts the prevailing wage and supplemental benefit rate. The Office of the Inspector General for the SCA began investigating EMB after receiving a number of complaints that the firm was not paying employees the required prevailing wage rate, but rather roughly a third to a half of the rate, and was not making appropriate contributions to the union pension fund."

Prosecutors allege the the contractors were not merely "cooking" the books, but also created a new set of "dummy" records as well. All of this, according to the Manhattan DA, was to hide underpayments. Additionally, EMB falsified payroll reports and completely omitted workers from records while adding those who did not actually work. In fact, when it came time to submit the payment applications, it is alleged that Elisavet Batalia provided sworn affidavits that the prevailing was was paid to employees when it had not. Vicky Stergiou also is alleged to have given cash "off the books" to employees by cashing EMB checks made payable to other people. The alleged fraud perpetrated by the defendants took another step towards criminality when Michael Batalias allegedly staged a accident at a different location after an employee was hurt elsewhere.

While I am certainly not privy to the facts of the case beyond the press release, the defendant's certainly have a difficult road ahead. The police executed a search warrant in 2008 and likely have subpoenaed bank and payroll records. Moreover, it appears that there are numerous employees, ie, witnesses, who could testify as to how they were paid, hours worked and conduct of the EMB. That being said, although it is not an affirmative defense as it is in the context of Falsifying Business Records, did any of the defendants offer the false instrument at the behest of a supervisor and without any personal benefit? Did each individual indicted by the Grand Jury have the intent to perpetrate these crimes? Are there documents supporting each of the defendants' involvements or is the indictment based on the general roles of the defendants at EMB? Whatever the defense may be, the defendants should implement it immediately.

Grand Larceny in the First Degree is a class B felony punishable by up to 8⅓ to 25 years in prison. Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree are class E felonies punishable by up to 1⅓ to 4 years in prison.

Crotty Saland, LLP
is a white collar criminal defense firm located in New York City. Founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, Crotty Saland, LLP has successfully represented clients in white collar criminal matters ranging from multiple million dollar Criminal Tax Fraud cases to crimes involving Forged Instruments, Identity Theft and Grand Larceny in the tens of thousands of dollars.

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