Saturday, July 14, 2012

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says those who knowingly violate state labor laws will face criminal charges and possible jail time

State's top lawmaker has already filed felony charges against half-dozen businesses for violations. William Mazzella of Decora Construction LLC sentenced to four months in jail after admitting he illegally paid 39 of his workers 

By Juan Gonzalez

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is sending a clear message to government contractors who bilk their workers.

From now on, those who knowingly violate state labor laws won't simply walk away with paying a fine, Schneiderman says - they'll face criminal charges and even jail time.

That's what the co-owners and a manager of a LaGuardia Airport construction firm learned the hard way this week.

William Mazzella, a supervisor for Mahopac-based Decora Construction LLC, was sentenced to four months in jail by a Putnam County judge after admitting he illegally paid 39 of his workers less than half the wages required by state law.

In addition, the firm's two owners, Francisco Tavares and Aurora Perreira, received five years of probation and were banned from government work for five years.

They also were docked $800,000 to pay restitution to workers who were cheated out of wages on both the LaGuardia project and a second housing construction contract for the city.

Decora had $1.5 million worth of work on a new aircraft fire rescue facility at LaGuardia in 2009. But instead of paying its workers the $50-to-$70 an hour in prevailing state wages it claimed to be paying, the firm only paid $18 to $25 an hour.

Mazzella also admitted to cheating workers assigned to another $2.5 million affordable housing project on Brook Ave. in the South Bronx from 2008 to 2010.

"Paying workers less than the law requires and then lying about it in official documents is not a mistake or paperwork problem," Schneiderman said. "It is criminal behavior."

Mazzella, Perreira and Tavares could not be reached for comment, and their lawyers did not respond to phone calls.

Ever since he took office last year, Schneiderman has made a point of beefing up his agency's labor bureau. He has already filed felony cases this year against a half-dozen businesses for labor law violations.

This is welcome news, given that our labor departments in Washington and Albany seem to have fallen asleep when it comes to violations of overtime pay, workmen's compensation and other labor laws.

In March, for instance, Schneiderman filed felony charges against Erasmo Ponce, the owner of a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, tortilla factory, where a Guatemalan immigrant was killed in early 2011 after falling into a dough-mixing machine.

After that accident, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company, Tortilleria Chinantla, $64,000 for safety violations.

Schneiderman then followed up by prosecuting Ponce for failing to pay worker's compensation for his employees. Ponce pled guilty in June, agreed to pay more than $400,000 in restitution, and will soon be sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Sure Eliot Spitzer, one of Schneiderman's predecessors, drew flashy headlines with his probes of Wall Street malfeasance. But this attorney general knows that in tough economic times like these - when workers are more afraid than ever to challenge outright abuses from unscrupulous bosses - someone in government has to uphold our labor laws.

1 comment:

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