A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

California Contractor Sentenced to Prison in Disturbing Forced Labor Case

An article which appeared in the online publication Construction Dive reports on the conviction and sentencing this summer of a California construction company owner who was sentenced to 8 years in prison and ordered to pay $919,738.64 of unpaid wages in restitution for obtaining forced labor from victims and harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage or private financial gain.  The article shines a light into the dark spaces where people living in the shadows, terrified of deportation, are trafficked for their cheap or even free labor.  From the article:

“One of the most disturbing aspects of the Torres case is worker testimony that, since 2015, he recruited undocumented individuals from Mexico with the promise of construction jobs only to make some work as long as 24 consecutive hours without pay. He locked them up after hours in squalid living spaces with makeshift beds and limited access to toilets and showers. If they complained, witnesses told the court, Torres threatened deportation and physical harm to them and their families in Mexico.”

A press release from the Department of Justice of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California tells the same story with even more detail:

“Torres, 38, of Hayward, Calif., was convicted of the charges on March 18, 2019, after a 10-day jury trial. The evidence at trial demonstrated that since at least May 2015, Torres owned construction companies in Northern California at which he employed workers to whom he paid little to nothing for their labor.  Torres recruited workers from Mexico to work for his construction companies and then refused to pay them the wages they had earned.  Further, Torres knew the workers had come to, entered, and remained in the United States in violation of law; he kept the workers in squalid conditions and shielded them from detection while making them work as long as 24 consecutive hours at a time.  Many victims testified at trial, with the assistance of an interpreter, about how Torres treated them.  Witnesses testified that Torres paid them far less than what he had promised to pay them, and when they complained, Torres threatened them or their family members.  Specifically, the evidence demonstrated Torres warned his victims that if they reported him, then he would harm them physically, have associates in Mexico harm their family, or have them deported.  The evidence also demonstrated that Torres told his victims that if they went to police or filed suit against him, no one would believe them.  In addition, Torres housed dozens of workers on makeshift beds in a commercial warehouse in Hayward and other properties including a garage in Hayward.  The workers had limited access to toilets and showers, and at times, the properties were locked, preventing the workers from leaving.  The evidence demonstrated Torres harbored these individuals for the purpose of obtaining an advantage in the construction industry and for his private financial gain.”

The startling details of this case may motivate lawmakers to crack down on illegal worker misclassification and human trafficking.  We will continue to report on cities and states that pass legislation to protect human lives and protect those who run their businesses ethically.