San Jose High-Rise Contractor Pays $250,000 Over Alleged Wage Theft, Labor Trafficking

The builder of a downtown San Jose apartment tower shelled out $250,000 to workers to settle labor violations alleged by federal investigators. Full Power Properties LLC—the builder that succeeded KT Urban on the the 650-unit Silvery Towers project—owed the money to 22 workers, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced last week.

Investigators found that Full Power Properties profited off underpaid workers employed by Job Torres, a subcontractor doing business as Nobilis Construction. During off hours, those workers lived in captivity, in a squalid warehouse run by Torres.

Acting on a tip that Hayward-based Nobilis Construction used undocumented workers as slaves, agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security served search warrants at multiple sites in August of 2017, took Torres into federal custody and referred the case to the DOL‘s Wage and Hour Division.

Investigators say they found that Torres kept workers in a cramped second-story loft hidden behind a wall, with wood bunks and no running water. Torres allegedly locked the door from the outside, which led investigators to conclude that the workers were being held against their will.

According to the feds, Torres smuggled workers in from Mexico and would threaten them into submission by mentioning to anyone who complained that he knew people from drug cartels. The construction boss allegedly collected contact information for each worker’s family “in case of emergency,” so he knew where their loved ones lived.

There were signs of trouble long before federal investigators began looking into claims of forced labor in February of 2017. Silvery Towers developer KT Urban, which enjoyed tax breaks from the city to incentivize the project, came under fire in 2016 for hiring non-union workers, prompting a series of protests by local labor unions.

“The protesters warned the city that this is what happens when you go non-union—you end up with wage theft,” says Ruth Silver-Taube, attorney and legal services chair of the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking. “Some of them even went to the city of San Jose and complained, ‘Why are you allowing these kinds of projects?’ And you know what? They were right.”

Silver-Taube, whose coalition advocated for the victims, called the Silvery Towers wage theft case one of the most egregious in recent memory. Authorities had to bring in medical vans to some construction sites because the workers were so badly injured.

“Some employers get so greedy, that not only do they not pay their workers, or underpay them, but they also keep them in conditions of involuntary servitude where they’re not free to leave,” she explained in a phone call Friday. “This case is emblematic of exactly that type of situation. It is pure greed.”

Wage and Hour Division District Director Susana Blanco said what happened to Torres should serve as an example to other contractors.

“The U.S. Department of Labor will do everything in its power to stop employers who violate the law from gaining an unfair competitive advantage over those who play by the rules,” she said in statement to reporters last week. “This case also represents a major victory in the fight against the scourge of human trafficking.”

9 Comments

  1. > Acting on a tip that Hayward-based Nobilis Construction used undocumented workers as slaves, agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security served search warrants at multiple sites in August of 2017, took Torres into federal custody and referred the case to the DOL‘s Wage and Hour Division.

    So, did the union demand that the “undocumented workers” be turned over to ICE, separated from their children, and deported to Venezuela, Nicaragua, or some place that will provide them with social justice?

    • The Union was not why and how this came to light. So however our country handles them is not because of the union. its the contractors fault. If he would have paid them even if was the bare minimum, and not locked them away this may have gone under the radar like every other non union job site in the bay area.

  2. Frightful punishments must be imposed for crimes involving the exploitation of the working man. I hope Torres is sentenced to a very long prison term. He’s obviously guilty so there is no need for a trial (due process is so wasteful of public resources). I also hope that his fellow inmates will be told who he is so that he will suffer greatly while in jail. Also the prime contractor and building owners got off too easily. They should have been ordered to pay an amount that would drive them out of business.

  3. > Frightful punishments must be imposed for crimes involving the exploitation of the working man.

    John:

    Is “open borders” illegal immigration of unskilled workers to depress wages and take away the jobs of the working man . . . . does THAT qualify as “exploitation of the working man”?

    Which politicians deserve “frightful punishments” for exploitation of the working man? Open borders Ted Kennedy? Open borders Barack Obama? Open borders Dianne Feinstein? Open borders Nancy Pelosi? Open Borders Jerry Brown? “Build the wall” Donald Trump?

    • Any contractor that hires undocumented workers should lose license and pay all the taxes and back wages that has obviously been cheated from the worker and the government. Developers that hide behind should be held to account as well. City councils should not let these scabs in in the first place.

  4. As a point of order, Nobilis Construction was indeed licensed at the time of the allegations, his license expiring in January 2018.

  5. How in the world did he get away with having undocumented workers with all the stringent laws that are supposedly in place. Where were the City, County and Federal inspectors? This is a travesty! This never would have happened with a Union General or Union Subcontractor. This is a case of fraud, greed, criminal, and every negative adjective you can use to describe this animal, poor excuse of a human being. Haven’t been this disgusted since I heard about trump’s disgusting dealings with his architect and builders.

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