A Prince George's County judge ordered a Silver Spring subcontractor yesterday to pay $21,000 in restitution to a dozen Latino immigrant workers whom he admitted to cheating out of wages.
Circuit Court Judge Michael P. Whalen also ordered Francisco Sandoval, a subcontractor who hired the workers to help build luxury townhouses in Bowie, to pay a $1,000 fine for each of seven misdemeanor counts after he admitted violating the Wage Payment Act. Sandoval pleaded guilty in April.
Whalen suspended the fines, which could be imposed if Sandoval fails to pay full restitution, said Assistant State's Attorney Doyle L. Niemann. Whalen also could hold Sandoval in contempt of court and order him jailed, Niemann said.
Niemann said Sandoval's sentencing marked the first time authorities in Prince George's have used criminal statutes to recover wages on behalf of immigrant day laborers.
Eight of the workers attended Sandoval's sentencing yesterday in Upper Marlboro.
Jose Flores, 39, was among them. At the time that Sandoval failed to pay him, Flores said, his newborn son in his native Honduras was gravely ill with a fever.
"I didn't have any money to send for medicine or for the doctor," Flores said. The infant died.
Sandoval made a $6,000 payment yesterday by forfeiting a $5,000 bond to the state Division of Parole and Probation and paying $1,000, Niemann said.
Parole and Probation officials will forward Sandoval's payments to Casa of Maryland, an immigrants' rights organization based in Silver Spring that helped the workers gather their evidence and negotiated the restitution amount. The group will distribute what is owed to each of the workers, Niemann said.
Sandoval's attorney did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Such cheating of laborers by employers is a growing problem in Prince George's and across the Washington area.
According to a study by the University of California at Los Angeles released in June, more than half of day laborers in the Washington area have been cheated out of wages, and one in four has been hurt on the job. The study was based on the experiences of 476 day laborers in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia who were interviewed by UCLA researchers.
Jayesh Rathod, an attorney with Casa of Maryland, said Sandoval cheated at least two dozen workers out of wages in June and July 2003. Some of those workers did not come forward because they had entered the country illegally and were afraid of drawing attention to themselves, said Ruben Sanchez, 33, a laborer who will receive back pay from Sandoval.
One of the workers who came forward kept a tally of the hours that he and other laborers worked, which proved important in obtaining the guilty plea and restitution, Niemann said.
In all, the 12 workers were owed about $40,000, Niemann said. Casa of Maryland filed a civil action against the general contractor, who settled that case by paying $22,000 to the workers.