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Businessman pleads guilty in labor trafficking case

A businessman accused of exploiting his construction workers has pleaded guilty as his trial was about to start in Minneapolis.

Forty-seven-year-old Ricardo Ernesto Batres pleaded guilty Monday in Hennepin County to labor trafficking and insurance fraud.

Prosecutors alleged Batres denied the employees health coverage and workers’ compensation and forced them to live in overcrowded housing with no hot water. A criminal complaint says the construction workers did not have authorization to be in the U.S. and when they complained about the conditions, Batres reported them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which deported some of them.

Minnesota Public Radio News reports under the plea deal, prosecutors are recommending a sentence of nine months in the workhouse with the possibility of early release.

Batres’ company, American Contractors and Associates, provided construction work throughout Hennepin County and the region.

Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley, who’s department investigated fraud allegations against Batres, issued a statement Tuesday:

“The actions of Ricardo Batres are egregious. The Minnesota Commerce Fraud Bureau investigated his actions of insurance fraud, which uncovered a much broader pattern of exploitation against the workers he employed. I am proud of the Commerce Fraud Bureau’s hard work and partnership with the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to bring justice in this case, and I hope this serves as a warning to employers across Minnesota. Mistreating and abusing workers for profit will not be tolerated in this state. The Commerce Fraud Bureau works diligently to ensure all Minnesotans are protected from these horrifying schemes.”

Minnesota Lawyer staff contributed to this report.

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