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Sep
2014
23

“I Called the Migra on You Guys”: Seattle Contractor Sentenced for Exploiting Undocumented Workers

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A Seattle contractor has been sentenced to three months in jail and fined $10,000 for breaking prevailing wage laws and abusing employees by reporting them to immigration when they asked to be correctly paid.  The contractor, Dathan Williams, had landed more than $1.1 million in contracts from the government before an investigation, which included the training of an undercover police officer as a drywall installer, took him down. 

The investigation was part of a broader effort that followed complaints by local unions to the Kings County Prosecutor’s Office.  Williams was found to be one of the most egregious offenders.  

Williams paid workers a fraction of the prevailing wage required to win the government contracts, which allowed him to underbid his competitors.  As part of his scheme he routinely hired undocumented immigrants who were easily exploitable. Two of his employees were even deported.  

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said that Williams “cheated workers and the state to gain a competitive advantage over honest contractors.”  

“The undercover work by Seattle police revealed a pattern of deception and fraud by this contractor which we allege rose to the level of a crime,” he added.

Though the violations appear extreme, local union and labor representatives argue that they have grown increasingly common in the region.  The Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters went to authorities in October of 2010 after they found workers on government-funded projects earning between $50-$100 a day.  The prevailing wage for a drywall installer in the region is $46 an hour.  

“The truth is (Williams) is just one of many contractors who operate their construction businesses this way,” council communications director Ben Basom said in a statement. “He is just one small piece of an enormous pie.”

Elizabeth Smith, Department of Labor and Industries assistant director for fraud prevention and labor standards, said in a news release:

Dathan Williams refused to pay his workers the required prevailing wage for public works jobs, then lied about that to the government.  By paying workers a fraction of what they should have received, he won bids for construction projects that should have gone to legitimate contractors who pay their employees fairly.”

In their investigation the King’s County Prosecutors Office found that wage documents had been forged to cover up the abuses.  The unions who brought forward the complaints also collected evidence of thefts and threats Williams had made against union and nonunion workers.  Williams is still on the hook for the back wages owed to his workers, according to SeattlePI.com:

Williams’ former employees are owed thousands of dollars in back pay while the state is owed a variety of taxes and fees, including $118,582 in back workers’ compensation payments. He has been unable to obtain a bank account in his name due to his federal tax debts.

Previously known as Black Bass Innovations and JRW Structures, Williams’ drywall business was operating under the name J. Structures & Interior Solutions, LLC, when the investigation began. Several others involved in those companies have not been charged criminally.

The undercover officer who infiltrated the company first trained with the local carpenters union to prepare himself for the investigation.  Once hired he recorded Williams bragging about his practice of hiring illegal workers and using possible deportation as a way to exploit them as part of his scheme.  As Detective Don Jones wrote in the charging papers:

“He laughed about the fact that when he met with (two) employees to give them the $2,000 check they wanted, he told them, ‘I called the Migra on you guys. That’s what you get when you try to (expletive) with me,’”

Williams was also caught on tape admitting to dodging taxes.  Prosecutors charged Williams with two counts of first-degree theft and three counts related to violations of employment law.  He plead guilty to two counts of second-degree theft and two related charges. 

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2 Comments on ““I Called the Migra on You Guys”: Seattle Contractor Sentenced for Exploiting Undocumented Workers”

  1. BTW, The Department of L&I, Liz Smith, did not follow through. This case resulted from multiple lawsuits initiated by the employees and the Painters Union who provided SPD Detectives with access to workers who confirmed all allegations.

    The Pacific NW Carpenters was able to gain access to the company by assisting Detectives to pass as drywall installers. The case was initially stalled in the DA’s office until enough public pressure was mounted to get the DA to act on the Detectives recommendation that JRW/Dathan Williams be formally charged and brought to justice.

    It is estimated that JRW/Dathan Williams defrauded the public out of more than $1m in public contracts. The same day as Dathan Williams was sentenced a man who stole less than $200 in consumer goods from a retail outlet received on year in jail. I think this demonstrates that white collar crime does pay.

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