The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office brought the charges against Ricardo Batres following an investigation by the Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau. According to the charges, Batres used undocumented workers on his construction crews. He threatened to have them deported unless they obeyed him, making them work very long shifts with no overtime pay.
As is required under Minnesota law, Batres did not carry workers’ compensation insurance coverage for his workers,. Batres claimed he employed no workers and, as a result, was not required to pay for workers’ compensation insurance.
This, however, was a lie. When workers became injured, Batres made them go to a massage therapist. He promised he would continue to pay them while they were recovering. This was another lie. Employees were injured in a variety of ways onsite, including by stepping on nails and falling to the ground while working. Batres would often have his crews work as much as six stories high without adequate safety equipment. Employees would often return to work while still injured.
Batres founded American Contractors and Associates, LLC., in 2008 and immediately began hiring undocumented workers. Batres threatened his employees, saying they would be deported if they ever visited a doctor for their injuries.
By the summer of 2017, many of the workers were at breaking point. Batres housed some of them in nearby Bloomington, but the accommodations had no hot water and was overcrowded. Batres had also stopped paying their rent.
On July 11, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detained the workers as they left the house. Many were soon deported. One worker, however, obtained an immigration bond which enabled him to remain in the United States for the duration of his immigration case. During a meeting at his home, Batres threatened the worker. “Don’t leave me,” he allegedly said. “You have to continue working with me until we finish this. If you try to leave, I can harm you.”
Four months later, this same worker was injured when a prefabricated wall fell on top of him. He was taken to hospital by his coworkers. When Batres couldn’t stop them going, he rushed to the hospital and made sure he was the one translating for the worker. Batres lied yet again, this time to the doctors—he claimed the incident happened at his home, not while the worker was onsite.
Batres made this worker apply for charity and public medical help to pay for his treatment. Medicaid paid $31,000 of the medical bills; MinnesotaCare paid $10,000; the Hennepin County Charity Care Program paid $4,200.
The case against Batres was helped by reports from labor unions, The Advocates for Human Rights, and the Centre for Workers United in Struggle.
In a statement, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said, “By underpaying and failing to purchase workers’ compensation insurance, Mr. Batres took work away from employers and their workers who were playing by the rules. … We will vigorously prosecute Mr. Batres, and we hope this serves as a warning to developers and general contractors to not turn a blind eye to this kind of illegal activity.”
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