Ricardo Batres, a construction contractor who exploited undocumented immigrants, pleaded guilty to avoid criminal proceedings on Monday, Minnesota Public Radio reports.
Batres, 47, had been fined a total of $15,000 over the years for violations of state labor law, but avoided criminal prosecution until last fall. Also accused of workers' compensation fraud and theft by swindle, Batres became the first person in state history charged under a law outlawing labor trafficking.
More than a year after charges came down, Batres pleaded guilty to the fraud and trafficking counts. Historic or not, his penalty looks fairly light: At his sentencing in January, prosecutors will push for just nine months in a county workhouse —Batres could be out after four—and five years of probation.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says his office is "looking at other cases" like this one, adding the "[construction] industry is watching for a change, and they don't like this."
Batres' business was the subject of a 2018 City Pages cover story detailing how he lured workers into the construction business with promises of regular work and few questions asked.
The men he recruited to build Twin Cities homes and luxury apartments soon learned not everything was as swell as Batres had promised:
The house Batres rented for a large group of workers came without heat and hot water, nor were they allowed to use the stove. The landlord eventually threatened eviction, claiming Batres hadn’t paid the rent.
When a 21-year-old Honduran man who'd struck out on his own while awaiting his asylum status broke a bone in his spine, Batres "told him to keep working and forget about going to the hospital...lest he be deported."
Batres sent his injured worker to a self-employed masseuse in Fridley.
He and several others working for Batres were swept up in an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation. One says Batres later bragged of getting unhappy laborers rounded up before they could leave, and that the worker owed him some $13,000 in unpaid labor for bonding him out of jail.
That man subsequently suffered a major back injury that left him in a body cast; his deportation case was left up in the air. As of last fall, as the Department of Homeland Security said it would delay any action as he cooperated in the prosecution of Batres.