Accused Labor Trafficker Accepts Plea Deal
Wednesday, November 20, 2019 | 514 | 0 | 88 min read
On the day his trial was set to begin, a labor broker accused of workers' compensation fraud, payroll fraud and labor trafficking pleaded guilty.
Ricardo Batres, who prosecutors said supplied undocumented immigrant workers to construction sites in the booming Minneapolis area, pleaded guilty Monday in Hennepin County court. Despite national attention on the case and a vow by local officials to crack down on the crimes, prosecutors have recommended just nine months in prison, with the possibility of release after four months, according to a local news report.
Batres, 47, acknowledged that he took advantage of laborers' immigration status to force them to work for him, and threatened to report them to federal authorities. He also lied on his workers' compensation insurance application to save money, and was accused of shorting workers on wages and paying them in cash, authorities said.
Batres took the deal, pleading guilty to labor trafficking and insurance fraud, after acknowledging that the evidence against him was strong.
“The insurance fraud and other things are not very good things,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Monday. “But what’s really bad is when you’re trafficking in human beings.”
Labor brokers have become a growing problem nationwide, but prosecution has proven difficult because some workers fear they will be deported if they go public with their testimony. In this case, prosecutors partnered with community groups that work closely with immigrants, officials said.
“We see this trial as a call on other leaders in the industry, from our elected officials to developers, to be able to sit down and see how we can change this together,” said Eustacio Orosco, an organizer with a workers' rights group in Minneapolis.
Freeman said more prosecutions are likely.
“We are looking at other cases now,” he said. “We spent most of our time and energy, all of us, making sure this one worked. The industry is watching for a change, and they don’t like this. It makes the industry look bad.”