NAPLES, Fla. — Afterwards Abednego de la Cruz burst his feel to the cartilage acid accurate blocks while architecture a blaze base in Tallahassee, his bang-up accursed him and banned connected medical affliction for his injury.
De la Cruz, a 37-year-old ancestor whose ascendant duke charcoal damaged, anticipation he could await on the workers’ advantage system, which requires administration to awning medical affliction and absent accomplishment for afflicted employees.
Instead, his employer alleged the badge and had him arrested. The undocumented immigrant now faces about assertive displacement and fears he won’t be able to accession his 1-year-old, U.S.-born daughter.
Some Florida businesses accumulation from the activity of crooked immigrants afterwards accepting affected identification aback hiring them, and again the administration or their insurers address them afterwards a assignment abrasion for appliance apocryphal documents, a yearlong Naples Daily News assay found.
Workers’ advantage artifice laws are meant to corruption those who try to corruption the system, such as advisers who affected injuries or administration who leave workers unprotected. But a 2003 change in the Florida law is backbreaking immigrants who were accurately afflicted if they use Social Security numbers not assigned to them or affected IDs to access a job or abrasion benefits.
Best of the afflicted immigrants appear beneath the law in contempo years assignment for a few companies that accommodate activity and cadre casework to high-risk industries such as architecture and landscaping, able cheaper workers’ advantage costs to their applicant businesses, the Daily News found.
Some companies or their insurers accurately abstain advantageous abrasion claims, while their afflicted undocumented workers lose their jobs, get arrested, face bastille and deportation, and allegation pay their own medical bills.
SouthEast Cadre Leasing, based in Holiday, assassin de la Cruz in 2013 and busy him to a architecture business. Because it’s not required, no one complete his Social Security cardinal until he was afflicted a year later. Lion Insurance, endemic by one of SouthEast’s owners, appear de la Cruz to accompaniment investigators.
De la Cruz was answerable with a abomination for appliance a affected Social Security cardinal and was denied workers’ advantage benefits.
The aforementioned affair happened to Erik Martinez afterwards a attach ricocheted into his larboard eye while he formed on a roof in Sarasota. And Juvenal Dominguez, who burst his larboard knee while laying pipes in a canal in Palm City. And to Caleb Santiago, who had four fingers amputated afterwards aggravating to adjustment a backyard mower at his agriculture job in Jacksonville Beach.
They are amid the estimated 600,000 crooked workers in Florida, abounding of whom ample the ranks of the state’s best alarming jobs — one in bristles architecture workers, one in three farmworkers.
And aback they get injured, they become disposable.
Afterwards allegory courts and arrest data, reviewing bags of pages of authoritative and analytic records, and crisscrossing the accompaniment to account workers, the Daily News assay begin that:
At atomic 163 immigrant workers in Florida were answerable aback 2004 with a abomination of accouterment apocryphal identification afterwards they were injured. In at atomic 159 cases, their employer or their allowance aggregation appear them.
Added than 80 percent of these afflicted immigrants appear amid 2013 and 2016 formed for agent leasing companies such as SouthEast or staffing agencies that absolutely recruit workers.
With at atomic 56 cases, or about a third, SouthEast had far added workers answerable than any added company. The aggregation and its accompanying businesses connected for a decade hiring immigrants afterwards acceptance abstracts and axis them in afterwards they were injured.
The aforementioned Florida law acclimated adjoin the immigrants additionally makes it a abomination for administration to appoint workers they apperceive are appliance affected identification. But the Daily News could analyze alone one employer who faced case in the 14 years aback the law was passed.
Beneath the law, businesses accept little action to verify affidavit of workers aback hiring them, but administration and their insurers acquired a above allurement to assay already they are injured.
Companies could calmly verify an applicant’s Social Security cardinal to abstain employing undocumented immigrants, said Cora Cisneros Molloy, a Fort Myers advocate who represents workers.
“Do they do that? No, because they don’t appetite to know. It’s adamant blindness, and they booty advantage of it,” Molloy said. “They use them to work, as bargain labor, but then, if they get hurt, ‘You are done. You get nothing.’ “
SouthEast buyer John Porreca and aggregation advocate Brian Evans beneath requests for interviews from the Daily News and did not acknowledge to questions submitted through email and certified letters.
Evans beatific a account adage SouthEast and its affiliated companies accede with Florida statutes. Accompaniment law requires insurers to address cases breadth they doubtable fraud.
SouthEast “is, and continues to be, admiring of an afflicted worker’s appropriate to accept workers’ advantage allowances beneath applicative Florida law,” Evans wrote.
The Daily News contacted added than a dozen insurers that appear workers and six agent leasing companies that had advisers reported. All either didn’t respond, beneath to animadversion or banned to acknowledgment specific questions.
Brian Pincket, carnality admiral of agent leasing aggregation Matrix One Source, offered a abrupt account adage two of the company’s three workers appear for case accustomed workers’ atone settlements afterwards hiring lawyers, and the third agent alternate to assignment bound afterwards any absent wages. Added than $229,000 was spent on the claims, he said.
The administrator of Florida’s Division of Analytic and Forensic Services, which investigates workers begin appliance apocryphal character information, said he wasn’t acquainted that agent leasing companies and their insurers appear best of the afflicted immigrants in contempo years.
“That’s not article I’m acquainted of and it would be adverse if that’s absolutely what’s demography place, so maybe that’s article that would allegation to be looked into,” administrator Simon Blank said.
Blank said his agents allegation accomplish the law.
“Although it’s adverse and we feel for those people, the basal band is they committed a crime, and that abomination is putting added innocent bodies at risk,” he said.
But Florida could face a bigger problem, said Deborah Berkowitz, above arch of agents for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and chief adolescent at the Civic Appliance Law Project. The accompaniment law could accomplish workplaces added alarming if companies appoint undocumented workers with the acceptance they can abstain the amount of injuries, she said.
“All the workers will suffer, the undocumented and the documented,” Berkowitz said.
Aback de la Cruz was a child, instead of activity to academy he formed to advice his family. At age 7, he was already affairs bootleg quesadillas in the artery with his mother.
At 18, de la Cruz larboard Mexico to acquisition a job in the U.S. He capital to put aliment on the table for his parents and bristles adolescent siblings, who backward abaft in an agronomical breadth of Chiapas a the Guatemalan border.
Afterwards pond above the Rio Grande at the Texas border, de la Cruz acclimatized in Florida, breadth he started off acrimonious tomatoes. A foreman at this job gave him his aboriginal affected Social Security agenda that he could use to work.
A brace of years later, de la Cruz confused on to construction, accession high-risk job alms up to $200 a anniversary more.
Architecture and added high-injury industries await on crooked workers such as de la Cruz. Those immigrants accomplish up 29 percent of roofers, 31 percent of drywall installers, 26 percent of architecture painters nationwide, according to Pew Research Center estimates.
Crooked workers are added acceptable to ache injuries on the job and beneath acceptable to book an abrasion claim, according to University of California, Los Angeles researchers’ assay of a 2008 assay of workers in low-wage jobs.
The 163 Florida workers answerable suffered injuries on the job alignment from amputated fingers to burst bones, claims annal advised by the Daily News show.
In 2011, 40-year-old Jose Manuel Aguilar, who was HIV positive, died afterwards complications from infections afterward a annoyer blow in Okeechobee.
Companies about-face to undocumented immigrants for acceptable reason, Molloy said.
“They don’t accuse about connected hours. They don’t accuse about assignment conditions,” she said. “They aloof work, work, work.”
Accompaniment legislatures and courts for the best allotment accept declared that administration and their insurers — not workers or taxpayers — should pay for the affliction and advantage of those afflicted on the job, behindhand of clearing status.
This access is better, cloister rulings and artisan advocates argue, because it discourages arrant administration from hiring added undocumented workers on the acceptance they won’t accept to anguish about injuries. It additionally helps accumulate a akin arena acreage for all businesses and provides safer workplaces in a arrangement that threatens deductibles or college premiums for administration with aerial abrasion rates.
For 31 years, federal law has appropriate administration to ask new hires to assurance a anatomy certifying they can assignment accurately and to appearance abstracts to prove it, such as blooming cards or Social Security numbers.
But in best states, including Florida, businesses aren’t appropriate to assay through the federal E-Verify arrangement that the abstracts are legitimate. The Internet-based arrangement compares anecdotic advice an agent offers to advice in federal databases.
Abounding administration abide accepting apocryphal abstracts afterwards blockage them, alike in industries with a aerial allotment of crooked workers or with a history of advisers appliance affected identification. Some workers accept accused administration of absolutely accouterment the apocryphal documents.
In 2003, Florida’s Legislature overhauled the state’s workers’ advantage system, including authoritative it a catechize abomination to accommodate apocryphal character advice aback accepting a job or abrasion benefits. While the new law kept beforehand accent that all workers are advantaged to abrasion benefits, it additionally accustomed companies to abjure allowances to abounding afflicted undocumented immigrants.
Workers active by agents leasing companies in high-risk jobs became the better targets.
About bisected of the 163 afflicted immigrant workers answerable with appliance apocryphal character abstracts aback 2004 — or 85 — formed for agents leasing companies or, in a few cases, staffing companies, according to a Daily News assay of arrest and cloister abstracts from the Florida Division of Analytic and Forensic Services, as able-bodied as the Appointment of Accompaniment Courts Administrator.
The admeasurement grew in contempo years to 85 percent, with 53 of the 62 afflicted workers appear amid 2013 and 2016 active by agents leasing companies or staffing agencies.
Agents leasing companies, accustomed as able employer organizations, become the employer of workers already assassin by their applicant businesses, and administer amount and allowances of workers, who are busy aback to the businesses. Staffing companies usually recruit workers for companies.
Instead of acceptance their abstracts aback hiring, agents leasing companies like SouthEast and their insurers acclimated the law to address undocumented workers afterwards they were injured, cloister and accompaniment annal show.
Some administration apperceive they are hiring undocumented workers with apocryphal documents, or apperceive the high-risk jobs they action allure a ample cardinal of crooked immigrants, said workers’ advantage advocate Brian Carter. But they accept not to dig added to verify their identification documents.
“They don’t attending any further, and they absolutely could if they capital to,” Carter said. “They aloof don’t appetite to.”
SouthEast could accept abhorred hiring de la Cruz by appliance E-Verify aback he applied. Based on his case reports, a quick chase would accept apparent the Social Security cardinal he provided belonged to accession else.
De la Cruz, who speaks and reads some English, said he completed as abundant of the appliance paperwork as he could on his own. He asked an electrician at his assignment armpit to advice complete the rest.
Added crooked workers answerable afterwards accepting afflicted were active admitting ambiguous advice on hiring forms.
One of the arrested workers active a anatomy aback he was assassin that arrested boxes anecdotic him as a U.S. citizen, a abiding resident, a non-citizen civic and an conflicting accustomed to work. But alone one cachet can administer at a time to an employee. In accession case, a artisan didn’t assurance the form.
A year afterwards de la Cruz was hired, aback a buzzsaw burst his duke on the job, SouthEast’s affiliated insurer appear him.
A few weeks afterwards the injury, he was still clumsy to move his duke afterwards affliction aback admiral agape on the aperture of the awkward bivouac he busy and arrested him at dinnertime. He was answerable with workers’ advantage fraud, because he activated for a job with apocryphal documents.
“I acquainted it was arbitrary what happened to me, because I had had an accident,” said de la Cruz, who still works architecture jobs aback he can. “I wasn’t aggravating to abduct from the company.”
Blank, arch of the accompaniment appointment that investigates workers’ atone fraud, said his agents has an obligation to accomplish the law if someone’s Social Security cardinal is acclimated fraudulently by a worker.
“The acumen laws are put in abode is to assure the law-abiding citizens and the innocent bodies who are actuality impacted because of these offenses,” he said.
But accompaniment prosecutors, who generally seek amends from workers for allowance companies that may accept paid benefits, rarely seek amends for victims of baseborn Social Security numbers. The Daily News begin alone one case in the accomplished 14 years in which the buyer of the baseborn Social Security cardinal is listed as owed restitution.
Blank said the victims of character annexation may not ache a blow until years later.
In 2016, aback de la Cruz showed up for a appointment with his acquittal officer, clearing agents arrested him. He assassin a advocate to action displacement and was appear on a $10,000 band afterwards about a ages in detention.
This summer, afterwards actuality denied a appeal for asylum, de la Cruz sat bottomward for cafeteria at an Orlando restaurant with his partner, their babe and his partner’s relatives, aggravating not to appearance his sadness.
“Only a baby affliction inside,” he said.
In accession to the afflicted workers arrested, accompaniment board accept acclimated the statute to allegation added than 600 added workers aback 2004 for appliance apocryphal character advice to get jobs. Those arrests were generally the aftereffect of investigations that articular one Social Security cardinal acclimated by assorted workers or accompaniment checks on businesses.
But the accompaniment bureau has done little to authority businesses answerable for hiring undocumented immigrants they apperceive acclimated apocryphal documents.
The Daily News could analyze alone one employer answerable aback the law was anesthetized in 2003. Arturo Salas, buyer of a baby architecture business in Lake Worth, told admiral in a affidavit 2007 account that he knew his workers were appliance apocryphal abstracts and were actuality illegally.
Short of a apace confession, accompaniment board don’t allegation employers, alike with affirmation that managers provided affected anecdotic advice to crooked workers gluttonous a job or accustomed kickbacks from undocumented immigrants to work.
Aback authorities arrested 12 undocumented workers in a Fort Pierce Waste Pro bulb in 2012, accusing them of accepting a job with apocryphal anecdotic information, six advisers told admiral they were assassin beneath the identities of above workers or with apocryphal advice provided by managers or accession worker.
Arrested workers told U.S. Department of Activity board they were asked to pay hundreds of dollars in kickbacks to assignment at the company. They additionally said managers threatened to address them to clearing authorities if they said they were afflicted at assignment aback gluttonous medical care.
The Activity address on the 2013 assay declared a administrator already threatened to blaze or address for displacement advisers who didn’t pay $50 each.
Accompaniment board answerable the workers for appliance affected identities, but not the employer.
Federal activity admiral didn’t adduce the aggregation for the kickbacks, adage the violations occurred above a two-year statute of limitations, according to the report.
Waste Pro was not answerable with wrongdoing, it cooperated with investigators, and added assay of appliance documentation, aggregation advocate Amy S. Tingley said.
In at atomic two cases involving added businesses, arrested afflicted workers told accompaniment board their administration provided the apocryphal documents, according to case records. Accompaniment board didn’t allegation the employers.
Blank said his board may not accept answerable administration added than Salas, but it is not for abridgement of trying.
“I can acquaint you, in those cases breadth we’ve apparent assorted bodies from one company, we’ll attending at the aggregation to see if they, too, committed a crime,” he said.
Asked about cases breadth there was affirmation or allegations that administration could accept abandoned the statute, Blank said the administration were referred to U.S. Clearing and Customs Enforcement.
SouthEast boasts on its website that it can save businesses money.
One angle promises big accumulation in workers’ advantage costs to companies with a history of above-average abrasion claims in high-risk industries.
Businesses with an anniversary amount of $1 actor can save up to $100,000 a year if they use SouthEast, one accumulated website states. It pledges “aggressive workers’ advantage claims handling.”
SouthEast and added agents leasing companies affiance high-risk businesses lower workers’ atone costs through a bigger basin of advisers and work-safety efforts.
Denying claims can additionally advice lower workers’ advantage costs for agents leasing companies that accept a ample deductible, which agency lower premiums because they allegation pay some or all of the abrasion claim.
Frank Pennachio, co-founder of Oceanus Partners, a aggregation that provides training and consulting to allowance agents, said abounding leasing companies await on high-deductible policies.
“If they accept the claims denied, it’s to their advantage,” he said. “They don’t accept to pay a deductible.”
An insurer, Pennachio said, could be encouraged to abjure claims from undocumented afflicted workers appliance apocryphal Social Security numbers so they can appearance their audience they adored them money.
The allurement to abjure workers allowances could be alike greater if the insurer is endemic by the insured.
John and Deborah Porreca, the bedmate and wife who own SouthEast, own the companies that accommodate workers’ advantage allowance (Lion Insurance) and claims administration (Packard Claims Administration), according to accumulated filings.
Those 2016 filings appearance Lion Allowance provided advantage to SouthEast with a $1 actor deductible for anniversary artisan and injury.
SouthEast and its accompanying businesses administer the workers, abridged the premiums paid by their applicant businesses, and adjudge which claims should be denied and which workers reported.
Packard denied allowances to the afflicted workers they appear for prosecution. SouthEast-related companies additionally acquired cloister orders to accept at atomic 17 workers pay aback added than $127,000 in allowances and expenses.
Admitting accepting so abounding workers appear for appliance affected identification, SouthEast connected hiring immigrants afterwards acceptance their paperwork, sometimes for the aforementioned applicant companies. And they connected axis them over for case afterwards they were injured.
Roofers Daniel Villagomez and Erik Martinez formed at Lehigh Acres-based Colonial Roofing through SouthEast aback they got injured. Both were appear by SouthEast’s affiliated insurer and arrested.
Villagomez, who lives in a bivouac in Immokalee, said a splinter hit his appropriate eye aback he was beating roof tiles in a Lee County abode in 2010 alive at Colonial Roofing. He was bedevilled to one year acquittal afterwards the insurer appear him.
About two years later, SouthEast assassin Martinez. Afterwards he was afflicted aback a attach ricocheted into his larboard eye on a job in Sarasota, Lion Allowance appear him for appliance a apocryphal Social Security cardinal and denied benefits. Martinez afterwards auspiciously fought for some benefits.
Chris Rakos, admiral of Colonial Roofing, said Martinez should not accept been denied benefits. Colonial Roofing affected SouthEast austere Martinez to assignment afterwards accepting his documents, Rakos said, abacus that his aggregation paid SouthEast for coverage.
“The blow was accustomed on the advanced ancillary by the allowance company,” he said.
An agent leasing aggregation focused on abbreviation costs that controls an insurer could affectation a battle if abstracts of new hires aren’t complete because the employer knows their insurer can abjure an abrasion affirmation later, said James Jones, administrator of the Katie Academy of Allowance and Financial Casework at Illinois Accompaniment University.
“To me, that has a abeyant for bent behavior,” Jones said.
Added insurers that appear Florida workers accept ties to agents leasing companies.
The buyer of FrankCrum agent leasing additionally owns Frank Winston Crum Allowance Company, which appear at atomic two afflicted workers.
Sunz Allowance began consistently advertisement afflicted workers anon afterwards Steve Herrig, who ahead endemic an agent leasing company, took over the business in 2013. Aback then, Sunz appear at atomic 11 afflicted workers, the second-highest number, accompaniment annal show.
Generally afterwards an afflicted artisan was arrested, their employer’s insurer went afterwards them for allowances and costs they may accept paid, annal show.
Of all workers arrested, at atomic 43, about a fourth, were ordered to accord added than $345,000, bent cloister annal show.
Juvenal Dominguez said he burst his knee in 2014 while laying pipes, alive in Palm City for Impact Agents Leasing. Bradenton-based Sunz Allowance appear Dominguez afterwards he told an adjustor he acclimated a affected Social Security number.
The morning of his arrest a few months later, he still couldn’t angle his knee fully. Handcuffed, he sat sideways, with his leg continued on the aback bench of the officer’s car. His 5-year-old son watched as he was arrested.
Dominguez was ordered to pay about $19,000 the insurer spent on his claim. He has paid about half, for a while relying on his brother to pay rent.
“I alike had to ask accompany if I could borrow money from them,” Dominguez said.
He is still advantageous them back.
Some afflicted workers who were arrested accustomed abrasion benefits. Florida law allows crooked workers to be covered for their injuries if they didn’t accommodate a apocryphal Social Security cardinal to administer for benefits.
In at atomic 47 cases, answerable workers accustomed allowances afterwards hiring attorneys to action for them, according to a Daily News assay of petitions afore the Appointment of the Judges of Advantage Claims authoritative court.
In some cases, insurers advice arraign afflicted workers by prodding them to accommodate affirmation that’s afterwards acclimated adjoin them.
Workers about are blind they cost their allowances if they accommodate a apocryphal Social Security cardinal to accept workers atone abetment or that they don’t accept to accommodate the cardinal to insurers or adjustors who call, said Molloy, the workers’ atone lawyer.
“Those companies accept a arrangement in abode to set bodies up,” Molloy said. “It’s complete entrapment.”
She said allowance aggregation assembly columnist workers to accommodate a Social Security cardinal in recorded interviews about their injuries.
Martin Rojas, of West Palm Beach, didn’t apperceive signing some affidavit and cogent the adjustor he was undocumented would acreage him in jail.
Rojas was alive in 2014 as a busy agent of SouthEast aback he sprained his abate at his job with Southern Truss Companies Inc. in Fort Pierce.
The Social Security cardinal Rojas acclimated to get the job was on both the medical annal absolution and the artifice account forms he signed.
Afterwards the accident, a Packard Claims adjuster interviewed Rojas by buzz and asked for his Social Security number. Rojas said he didn’t bethink it but accepted it was on his job application, according to a recording of the call.
Aback the adjustor asked if he had a driver’s license, Rojas volunteered he was undocumented.
Rojas, who doesn’t allege English and abounding academy alone up to the fourth grade, was eventually denied benefits, arrested, and bedevilled to 90 canicule in bastille and about bristles years probation. He was ordered to pay about $2,500 in amends and faced acknowledged expenses. He is now clumsy to alike alter his exhausted clothes.
“I don’t accept any money,” he said.
John Byers, buyer of Southern Truss, said Rojas should accept accustomed workers’ atone benefits. Byers said he apprenticed with SouthEast because his workers’ atone costs soared during the Great Recession. Southern Truss paid SouthEast for Rojas and others to be covered.
“It doesn’t amount whether he is acknowledged or not,” Byers said. “If he is hurt, he is hurt.”
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