A Crystal contractor who was prosecuted under Minnesota's rarely used labor trafficking laws has been sentenced to 9 months in jail after pleading guilty.
Ricardo Batres, 47, was charged in 2018 after falling foul of labor rules in 2017, with an investigation found he hired a number of undocumented immigrant workers to complete wood framing and wall board installation construction work.
He ordered them to work 10-12 hour days Monday through Saturday, and the occasional Sunday, without paying them overtime.
At times they were asked to work at heights of 6 stories without having the necessary safety equipment, which in turn led to several workers suffering injuries, including when they stepped on nails, had walls fall on them, or fell from buildings.
After injuries, Batres told workers not to seek medical attention otherwise they would lose their jobs, and that they would be deported for working illegally in the U.S.
In another instance, some $45,000 of MinnesotaCare and Medicaid funds was spent on one of his employees who suffered a spinal injury, after Batres convinced him to lie about how he got injured so he didn't have to report it to worker's compensation insurance.
Batres was sentenced to serve 270 days in an adult correctional facility, and will spend five years on probation for the charge of labor trafficking.
In a statement, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said that Batres' "negligent and abusive" treatment of his workers was "unconscionable."
"His theft of government resources and charities to cover costs for an injured worker’s medical bills was disgraceful," he said. "Human trafficking is a serious crime that deserves legal action."
"Our office did a great job prosecuting this case, and we will continue to aggressively prosecute future ones which unfortunately will be forth coming.”
One of Batres' former employees gave a victim impact statement during the court hearing, saying: "I do not feel like I have the same freedom to go anywhere because I fear those connected with Mr. Batres. I must be careful wherever I go. I am always fearful. … I am worried that Mr. Batres, or his connections, will come to hurt me."