Three contractors charged with stealing over $64,000 in wages from 14 workers stemming from school construction work
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced today that three Rhode Island-based drywall installation contractors have been arraigned in Providence Superior Court on felony and misdemeanor charges following an investigation by the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Labor and Training into allegations that they stole more than $64,000 in wages from 14 workers during the construction and renovation of RISE Prep Mayoral Academy in Woonsocket in 2018 and 2019.
In total, four contractors have been charged with wage theft and related charges stemming from an investigation into alleged wage theft during the construction and renovation of RISE Prep. Earlier this year, an East Providence contractor was charged with stealing over $93,000 in wages from workers employed at the RISE Prep construction site.
Eduardo Benitez (age 33) of Woonsocket, the owner of Benitez Y Rojas Drywall (BYR) Empire Drywall (Empire), and New Generation Drywall (New Gen) is charged with three counts of unlawful appropriation of over $1,000, three counts of failure to pay wages, two counts of conspiracy to unlawfully appropriate money, and one count of providing a false document to a public official.
Teresa Rojas (age 36) of Pawtucket, affiliated with Empire Drywall (Empire), is charged with one count of unlawful appropriation of over $1,000, one count of conspiracy to unlawfully appropriate money, and one count of providing a false document to a public official.
Yuliana Gonzalez (age 25) of Providence, affiliated with New Generation Drywall (New Gen), is charged with one count of unlawful appropriation of over $1,000, one count of conspiracy to unlawfully appropriate money, and one count of providing a false document to a public official.
As alleged in court filings, the defendants are accused of failing to pay and misappropriating approximately $64,000 in wages to 14 former workers for work they performed during the construction and renovation of RISE Prep Mayoral Academy between 2018 and 2019. During that time, BYR, Empire, and New Gen drywall companies performed work as subcontractors under Case Construction Company, the general contractor of the project.
“At this point, can anyone seriously dispute that the theft of workers’ wages by unscrupulous contractors is a real and serious problem in Rhode Island? Can anyone seriously dispute that a change in the law, a change that this Office and others have repeatedly asked for, is necessary to deter conduct that causes real financial harm to working men and women and defrauds the state in the process? Yet here we are again, with prosecution alleging that employers stole $64,000 in wages from hardworking Rhode Islanders by refusing to pay the legally required wages and pocketing the difference,” said Attorney General Neronha. “While we were able to fashion a felony prosecution in this case, the fact remains that wage theft under any circumstances must become a felony under Rhode Island law. Working men and women in Rhode Island deserve justice. Until Rhode Island law reflects the seriousness of wage theft, we will continue to see cases like this one. Legitimate businesses will also continue to be at a competitive disadvantage. And Rhode Island taxpayers will continue to lose.”
It is alleged that the defendants were required to pay prevailing wage to workers at rates of more than $50.00 per hour. Instead, the defendants paid workers between $20.00 and $25.00 per hour and kept the difference for themselves. It is alleged that the defendants used the diverted $64,000 for their own personal use.
It is also alleged that the defendants submitted false certified payroll documents to the State.
Under Rhode Island law, wage theft violations, unlike all other theft crimes, are misdemeanor crimes regardless of the amount in wages implicated. Attorney General Neronha has repeatedly introduced legislation to make such crimes a felony in Rhode Island, as they are in other states.
The defendants are scheduled for pretrial conferences on October 25, 2022, in Providence County Superior Court.
The case was referred to the Office of the Attorney General from the Department of Labor and Training.
Acting Chief of Labor Standards, Mark Ryan, of the Department of Labor and Training, and Special Assistant Attorney General Carole McLaughlin and criminal investigators from the Office of the Attorney General are leading the prosecution and investigation of the case.