Labor broker pleads guilty to stealing salary from Baltimore construction worker
It’s a ploy that usually takes place in the shadows – an entrepreneur cutting corners and dodging existing wage laws that force workers to shell out money.
But yesterday in open court in Baltimore, Sergio Blanco of Laurel-based BAC Contractors Inc. pleaded guilty to charges of wage theft. An employee had come forward to work with prosecutors.
Blanco, whose company was hired in 2019 to work as a drywall contractor in Morgan State University’s new student services building, told the employee to pay or lose his job.
“I had to pay Sergio a $ 200 fee each week for making me work on a government project – money that I badly needed to cover my expenses and support my family,” the victim said in an impact statement read to Maryland District Court Judge Katie Murphy. O’Hara.
“It was not enough for Sergio to fire me, but he also let many other entrepreneurs know so that they do not offer me jobs,” the statement continued. “Because of this situation, I spent a lot of time unemployed, without the right to unemployment benefits.”
Before being taken away in handcuffs, Blanco was asked if he wanted to speak and refused. But in a “testimony video” later provided by the state attorney general’s office, the 49-year-old entrepreneur warned, “Please don’t make the same mistake I did. “
“I thought I could be more competitive and make more money if I asked my workers to pay me a discount on their wages,” Blanco said. “The attorney general’s office has charged me with criminal charges and I will spend time in jail.
Under the terms of the deal, Blanco pleaded guilty to one count of “theft plan” for misdemeanor. He was sentenced to six months suspended prison sentence except 50 days, followed by three years of supervised probation upon his release.
As part of the deal, Blanco has prepaid $ 50,000 in compensation that will be made available to some workers his company has underpaid in violation of current Maryland wage laws, according to a statement. by the GA office.
“Bad classification,Which occurs when an employer falsely classifies workers as independent contractors is an industry-wide problem, according to the Maryland Department of Labor.
In most cases, the misrepresentation is aimed at avoiding paying unemployment insurance contributions and other payroll taxes as well as premiums for workers’ compensation.
The ministry’s 2020 report notes that, dating back to 2015, 92 misclassification cases were reported, resulting in the conclusion of six joint investigations and the discovery of 198 misclassified workers.
Unlike in previous years, no citation of misclassification was issued by the agency in 2020 due to “the Covid-19 pandemic.” . . prevented the completion of any joint investigation of the cases.
Morgan State: “No knowledge”
Workers generally remain silent about this practice for fear of losing their jobs and being sidelined by the industry. The LAC case that Deputy Attorney General Alexander Huggins brought to court yesterday was an exception.
As a drywall subcontractor for the construction of the Calvin and Tina Tyler building on the Morgan campus, Blanco’s company submitted documents indicating that it had paid the workers the prevailing wages as specified by the law of the state and the supply contract for the project, Huggins said.
But between February 18, 2019 and March 13, 2019, one of those employees told prosecutors he was forced to pay Blanco a total of $ 600 in illegal cash rebates.
Dell Jackson, spokesperson for Morgan State University, said the school “has no direct affiliation with the identified subject nor any direct knowledge of compensation practices.”
Commercial Group Project
Commercial Interiors was a subcontractor on the Tyler Hall project, listing the 139,000 square foot building on its online portfolio.
Part of the business group led by Kevin Johnson, the Hanover-based company has previously been exposed by unions for alleged wage theft.
In 2019, a Towson University project where Commercial Interiors worked was the subject of a public protest by representatives of the Keystone + Mountain + Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, a Pittsburgh-based organization with members in Maryland. .
Union representatives held up a banner and distributed flyers with more details:
“Commercial Interiors Inc. has subcontracted drywall work to a series of labor brokers who often subcontract workers. Commercial interiors and their business partners are bad for our communities and workers in the construction industry. Does Towson University care ??? “
Earlier this week, protesters blasted the company outside the University of Maryland’s Midtown Baltimore medical campus.
The company did not respond to questions about its working practices of The drink.
Attorney General Brian Frosh pointed out yesterday that workers who have been victimized by LAC are eligible to receive restitution funds.
“All Blanco or BAC Contractors employees who were required to pay a discount on their wages while working on Morgan State University’s new student services building should contact the Attorney General’s office at 410-230-1712 as soon as possible. as possible, ”Frosh said in a statement accompanying the plea agreement.
A complaint must be made to Frosh’s office no later than February 5, 2022.