Suit accuses Massachusetts firm of elaborate scheme to bilk illegals
A Massachusetts leather and clothing manufacturer targeted in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in March has been accused in a lawsuit of conspiring to avoid overtime pay by making it appear that its workers — many of whom were illegal aliens — were being paid by two separate companies.
Brought by Greater Boston Legal Services on behalf of current and former employees of Michael Bianco Inc. (MBI) of New Bedford, Mass., the suit said the workers were paid with two separate checks to give the appearance that none of them exceeded the 40-hour workweek that would require over time payments.
The suit said the checks came from Michael Bianco for day shifts and Front Line Defense for evening shifts, although it described the second company as a bogus firm.
“It was clearly a deliberately created fiction,” said Audrey Richardson, a lawyer with Greater Boston Legal Services.
In March, ICE said in an affidavit the workers received no overtime pay despite working day shifts for the Bianco company and nights for Front Line Defense. It said they performed the same jobs at the same work stations, but used different time clocks and received separate paychecks.
The affidavit said the two companies operated within the same plant and that Front Line Defense appeared to exist “solely for internal accounting purposes at MBI.”
Hundreds of federal agents and state and local police, led by ICE, descended on MBI in March with search and arrests warrants, rounding up 361 illegal aliens from among the company’s 500 employees.
Criminal complaints accused MBI owner Francesco Insolia, 50; payroll manager Ana Figueroa, 40; plant manager Dilia Costa, 55; and office manager Gloria Melo, 41, of conspiring to encourage or induce illegal aliens to reside in the United States and conspiring to hire illegal aliens.
Luis Torres, 45, also was charged in a separate complaint of providing phony identification papers to workers at the MBI factory.
The complaint said Mr. Inso- lia intentionally sought out illegal aliens because “they were more desperate to find employment and are thus more likely to endure severe workplace conditions he has imposed.”
It descr ibed some of the workplace conditions as docking pay by 15 minutes for every minute an employee was late; fining employees $20 for spending more than two minutes in the restroom; fining employees $20 for leaving the work area before the break bell sounds; and fining employees $20 for talking while working.
According to affidavits in the case, MBI held Defense Department contracts worth $10 million between 2001 and 2003 to manufacture products for the U.S. military and received another defense contract in 2004 worth $82 million. As a result of those contracts, MBI increased its work force from 85 in 2003 to more than 500.
The affidavits said the com- pany knew that many employees had obtained fraudulent Alien Registration Cards, commonly known as “green cards,” and phony Social Secur ity cards. It also said MBI management instructed prospective employees on how to obtain fraudulent documents.
Carlos Simaj Morente (left) and Flor Chach worked at Michael Bianco Inc., where employees were docked pay for talking while working or spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.