A Brentwood gas station owner paid 18 employees below minimum wage and deprived them of overtime while threatening to call immigration on undocumented staffers who reported labor violations to law enforcement, Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini said Tuesday.
Jernail Singh, 64, of West Hempstead, was charged with two counts of labor trafficking, and one count each of first-degree scheme to defraud, fourth-degree grand larceny by extortion, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and retaliation under the labor law.
Singh was arraigned Tuesday in Suffolk County First District Court and released on his own recognizance. If convicted of the top count, he faces up to two and one-third to seven years in prison.
"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."
Joseph Goldberg, Singh's Manhattan-based defense attorney, declined to comment.
Singh is the owner of MH One Enterprises, Inc., which operates a Sunoco station on Suffolk Avenue. Prosecutors said Singh paid employees wages as low as $3.30 per hour and refused to pay overtime, despite staffers working 70-100 hours per week.
Singh threatened to file false police reports or call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement against employees who filed complaints about working conditions or who cooperated in any State Department of Labor investigation, authorities said.
In one instance, Singh confiscated an employee’s passport and threatened to call ICE when the victim requested the passport back, prosecutors said.
Singh also submitted falsified wage reporting forms to avoid paying Unemployment Insurance Fund contributions, officials said. A Labor Department audit found Singh owes approximately $9,000 to the Fund and about $275,000 in wages, illegal deductions and penalties for underpayments over a three-year period.
The case was investigated by the Labor Department's Anti-Retaliation Unit, created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2015 to investigate retribution against those who file wage theft complaints.
"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," said State Labor Department Commissioner Roberta Reardon.
Singh is due back in court Jan. 28.