Today’s news:

College Point firm fined $1M over wages

City Comptroller John Liu (second from l.), surrounded by a bevy of elected officials and advocates, explains his office's exposé of a College Point construction firm that did not pay its workers prevailing wages on city projects.
TimesLedger Newspapers

A College Point business that cheated a group of workers out of more than $1 million was ordered to pay up and is barred from bidding on contracts in the Big Apple for five years, the city comptroller said last week.

Mascon Restoration Inc., a construction firm that was working on behalf of several city agencies in 2007, not only failed to provide its workers with the prevailing wages required under any public works contract, but told a group of largely undocumented workers that inspectors from the city were also immigration agents, according to city Comptroller John Liu.

“This settlement helps to right the wrongs suffered by these hardworking people, and strong message that contractors working on city projects must pay prevailing wages as required under law,” Liu said at an April 4 news conference.

The company, headquartered at 129-06 18th Ave. and headed by Muhammad Zulfiqar, underpaid a group of what the comptroller’s office estimated at about 10 to 20 people, in some cases only giving them half of the daily wages they were entitled to.

As part of the settlement, Mascon pleaded guilty in Manhattan Criminal Court to falsifying its records, which is a felony. The company and Zulfiqar himself are also banned from bidding on or receiving any public projects until 2017.

Zulfiqar did not respond to a request to comment.

Liu has had trouble locating the workers whose wages were illegally garnished, because many fear that by approaching the government as an illegal immigrant, they may face deportation.

To arrive at the $1.2 million price tag, inspectors from Liu’s office pored over paperwork from four job sites in Manhattan where Mascon took advantage of its workers, Liu said.

Three of the workers have already come forward and will split $288,000 of the money, which leaves about $788,000 unclaimed, according to Constantine Kokkoris, of the comptroller’s Bureau of Labor Law. The total $1.2 million also included a civil penalty of $107,120 that will go to the city and, if the remaining workers do not claim their share of the pot within six years, the money will revert to the city’s general fund, according to Liu.

A bricklayer from Mexico who would only give his name as Renato said his bosses told him not to speak with inspectors from the city.

After running into one of the inspectors by chance, Renato decided to come forward and speak publicly about the abuse by Mascon, but he is one of few.

Although workers on city-funded projects are entitled to prevailing wages regardless of their immigration status — inspectors from Liu’s office are not even allowed to ask. Liu and City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) hope others will follow Renato and claim their unpaid wages.

“This sends a clear message to communities such as mine that wage theft will not be tolerated,” Dromm said.

Dromm is the chairman of the Council Immigration Committee and represents the heavily Latino neighborhoods of Corona and Jackson Heights.

He said that in addition to prevailing wage, immigrant workers of any status are also entitled to the same workplace rights as any other person.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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