NEW YORK (US), DECEMBER 19: An Indian-origin owner of a gas station in Brentwood is accused of exploiting workers and threatening immigrant employees to prevent them from reporting the violations to authorities, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said.
64-year-old Jernail Singh of West Hempstead is charged with two counts of labour trafficking, first-degree scheme to defraud, fourth-degree grand larceny by extortion, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and retaliation under the labour law, Sini said.
Singh is the owner of MH One Enterprises, Inc., a gas company that operates the Sunoco gas station on Suffolk Avenue in Brentwood.
He was accused of paying 18 employees at that gas station as low as $3.30 per hour and would not offer overtime pay despite the fact that some employees worked 70 to 100 hours a week, according to the DA.
The DA further said that Singh would then threatened to file false police reports or call immigration authorities if any employee filed a complaint about working conditions or cooperated in any investigations by the NYS Department of Labor.
On one occasion, he even confiscated an employee’s passport and threatened to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and file false charges when the employee asked for the passport back, said Sini.
He also submitted falsified wage reporting forms to avoid paying Unemployment Insurance Fund contributions. An audit conducted by the NYS Department of Labor audit found that Singh owes $9,000 to the fund and $275,000 in wages, illegal deductions, and penalties for underpayments to 18 employees over a three-year period, according to the DA.
“Every single worker in this state – no matter what their immigration status is – has the right to be paid for their work and has the right to report unfair working conditions without fear of retaliation,” Sini said.
“It is unacceptable for an employer to exploit that fear and take advantage of their workers,” added Sini.
Singh was arraigned at Suffolk County First District Court and was released on his own recognizance. He is due back in court on Jan. 28, 2021. If convicted of the top count, Singh faces a maximum sentence of two and one-third to seven years in prison.
“Not only did this employer cheat these New Yorkers out of wages they were entitled to, but his inhumane treatment of his workers was unconscionable,” New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said.