Albany, NY (January 26, 2011) -
State Labor Commissioner Colleen C. Gardner today announced that the Department of Labor will return over $500,000 to 18 workers who were cheated out of their wages on a public works project in White Plains. Mohammed Saleem, owner of Mutual of America, hired these workers in 2007 to work on a construction project at a Westchester County office building located at 112 East Post Road in White Plains.
In this kickback scheme, Saleem would force the workers to cash paychecks reflecting the proper rate of pay and give the money back to him. He would then pay the workers far less than they were entitled to under state prevailing wage law. Saleem kept the remainder of this money for himself, falsified weekly certified payroll records to cover his illegal acts, and charged the county for the full amount that the workers should have been paid. When these laborers, tapers, painters and carpenters should have been making the legal prevailing wage, they were actually being paid less than half the legal amount.
State Labor Commissioner Colleen C. Gardner said, “Employers who violate the public trust at the expense of workers, taxpayers, and law-abiding employers must be stopped and held accountable. Contractors who underpay workers on publicly-funded construction projects be warned: obey the law or face the consequences. The Labor Department is committed to protecting workers and public investments in capital construction as well as ensuring that those who comply with the law can compete on a level playing field. Through the joint efforts of the Labor Department, the county and law enforcement, we were able to recoup a sizable amount of wages owed to these workers, and these workers will finally get their back pay.”
As a result of coordinated investigations by the New York State Labor Department, the Westchester County Department of Public Works and the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, Saleem and Mutual of America were prosecuted by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office for violating state labor laws. In March 2009, Saleem pleaded guilty to two violations of state labor laws and was sentenced to one year probation and restitution. As part of the plea conditions, Saleem was banned from any future public works projects for a period of five years.
In total, more than $760,000 in wages, interest and penalties were determined as being owed by Saleem in these enforcement actions. To date, over $500,000 has been recovered and is being returned to the workers.
The Department is still working to collect additional interest and penalties from Saleem on behalf of these workers.
The case was referred to the State Department of Labor by the Westchester County Department of Public Works.