Attorney General Cuomo Announces Arrest Of Nyc Supermarket Execs Charged With Cheating Workers Out Of Thousands And Falsifying Records To The State; Brings Lawsuit To Recover Lost Wages

New York, NY (October 8, 2008) Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the arrest of the president and vice president of 229 Knickerbocker Corp, the parent company of the Bushwick Associated Supermarket, located at 220 Knickerbocker Avenue in Brooklyn. President Bienvenido Nunez and Vice President Martin Duran were charged with allegedly creating false business records, filing false documents with the state, defrauding employees and paying illegal wages. To help the cheated workers of Associated Supermarket recover from such illegal business practices, Attorney General Cuomo also announced a lawsuit to recover over $600,000 in unpaid wages for the supermarket’s 30 employees.

The case’s testimony shows that baggers and packers at Bushwick Associated Supermarket were paid nothing, receiving only tips as compensation, which amounted to approximately $30 a day. The delivery workers worked an average of 70 hours a week but made less than minimum wage and no overtime, as required by state labor laws. Making just over $4 an hour, including tips, they netted barely $300 for a six-day, 70-hour work week. Cashiers and stock people were also denied overtime pay despite working extra hours nearly every day they were employed at the Brooklyn market.

“This city’s dedicated workforce is the lifeblood of its economy, and today’s arrests and lawsuit sends a message to unscrupulous employers across the state that their hard-working employees will be treated fairly and compensated fully,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “Our New York City workforce must be paid for every hour they work, and my office is committed to tracking down the deceitful employers who swindle them, as well getting every hard-earned penny back to the employees who earned them.”

The case against Mr. Nunez and Mr. Duran covers a two-year period between 2004 and 2006 and alleges that the men not only failed to provide adequate compensation for their workers, but filed false documents with the state to cover up their wrongdoings. In violation of New York State Labor Law, Mr. Nunez and Mr. Duran did not pay their workers overtime, failed to provide minimum wage to many and, in some cases, provided no compensation at all. The executives, both Spanish speakers, also made no efforts to ensure that their primarily Spanish-speaking employees understood what they were being paid for and what deductions were being taken.

On top of cheating their workers, the case also alleges that Mr. Nunez and Mr. Duran then falsified their business records to the state. They created a separate set of payroll records for the majority of their employees, showing that each employee worked no more than 40 hours a week, when in reality every worker worked overtime for most weeks employed at the store.

Mr. Nunez and Mr. Duran are also being charged with filing false documents with the State’s Unemployment Insurance Fund, claiming fewer workers than were actually employed at the Associated Supermarket. Based on these false documents, Mr. Nunez and Mr. Duran paid less into the Unemployment Insurance Fund than required to by law and failed to adequately cover all of their employees.  The Unemployment Insurance Fund is set up to give workers an income while they are out of work and looking for a new job. If an employer is cheating the system, it makes it nearly impossible for employees to attain benefits for themselves and their families.

Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)/UFCW, said: “Today's arrests not only sends a powerful message that New Yorkers have zero-tolerance for employer lawlessness, they’re also a reminder why RWDSU, Make the Road NY and the Attorney General’s Office have joined forces to win justice for the retail workers on Knickerbocker Avenue.”

Nieves Padilla, Senior Organizer of Make the Road New York's Workplace Justice Project, said: “These arrests send a strong signal to abusive employers throughout the state that the days of impunity for inhumane exploitation are over. They are also a validation of years of hard work done by Bushwick churches and community organizations to demand better for workers in our community.”

Mr. Nunez and Mr. Duran were charged today in Kings County Criminal Court with falsifying business records in the first degree and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, both class E felonies punishable by up to four years in prison. The men were also charged with failure to pay wages, a class A misdemeanor.

The charges against Mr. Nunez and Mr. Duran are merely accusations and the men are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Attorney General Cuomo’s office is also filing a separate suit against the supermarket seeking over $600,000 in back wages and penalties for the over 30 defrauded workers who have failed to receive adequate compensation since 2004.

The criminal complaint is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Meredith McGowan and the suit to recover wages by AAG Jennifer Huggins and AAG Mina Kim. The cases are being supervised by Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice James Rogers.