A contractor and two labor brokers have been arrested and indicted for allegedly stiffing workers during a Bushwick school renovation, NY Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today.
According to the indictment, Baldev and Avatar Singh, labor brokers who secured workers for an exterior renovation of P.S. 196K, threatened to fire the laborers if they didn’t cough up illegal kickbacks. According to the indictment, as described in a press release, the Singh brothers would deliver the contractor’s checks (which were for the proper amount set by law) to their workers, but demand that they return any money above the daily pay rate that the Singhs had worked out with them, which was “a figure well below the proper prevailing rate of pay.” The defendants were indicted on multiple counts of Scheme To Defraud and Grand Larceny; the most serious charge could mean prison terms of 2 1/3 to 7 years.
In addition, Mohammed Chatha, a Brooklyn-based contractor responsible for pointing, grinding and caulking work on the school project between December 2012 and June 2013, stands accused of underpaying several workers by a grand total of more than $100,000. To cover up that crime, says Schneiderman, he allegedly submitted falsified payroll records to the School Construction Authority. “According to the indictments, these records indicated either that certain workers worked fewer hours than they had or that the workers had not worked at all, when they had,” reads the release. “The workers’ real hours were being monitored by investigators, who were tipped off at an early stage that several workers were not getting paid properly on the P.S. 196K project.” Chatha also faces up to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison if convicted of the top count of Failure To Pay Prevailing Wages and Benefits.
In 2012, the Department of Buildings issued a permit for extensive upgrades to the 82-year-old school building at 207 Bushwick Avenue, including masonry repairs, waterproofing and graffiti-proofing of walls, new courtyard paving, and new windows and doors. The renovation was expected to cost over $3 million.