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Post date: November 5 2003

Owner Of Harlem Supermarket Arraigned

State Attorney General Spitzer announced the arraignment of Rafael Montes de Oca, the former owner of the Extra Met Supermarket that was located in the Hamilton Heights section of Harlem, on 20 misdemeanor counts of Failing to Pay Wages and Failure to Pay the Minimum Wage to 10 former employees.

The arraignment alleges that when Montes de Oca, of the Bronx, closed the doors of the Extra Met Supermarket, located at 538-547 West 138th Street in Manhattan in May of this year he tried to cut his losses by failing to pay his employees for the last week of work at the store. Even when the store was in full operation, Montes de Oca paid a majority of his employees less than the minimum wage.

Spitzer said: "Paying employees less than the minimum wage cannot be tolerated. Employers who force their laborers to work long hours at sub-minimum wage must change their employment practices. When our office receives information about employers who underpay their employees, we will make every effort to see that the workers obtain the legal wage due them."

The case was referred to the Attorney General by the Office of New York State Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, whose legislative district encompasses Hamilton Heights. "When I found that these hardworking people had their wages stolen from them I was outraged. Unfortunately, it is all too common for dishonest employers to deceive and exploit immigrant workers. I am committed to working with the Attorney General in his vigorous pursuit of this case, and will continue to assist my constituents in fighting these kinds of abuses," said Schneiderman.

Montes de Oca has been charged with 10 counts of Failing to Pay Wages in Accordance with the New York State Labor Law and 10 counts of Failure to Pay the Minimum Wage. If convicted on the misdemeanor charges, Montes de Oca faces a maximum of two years in prison and payment of back wages to his employees in the form of restitution.

The defendant entered not guilty pleas before New York City Criminal Court Judge Martin Murphy at his arraignment on October 28, 2003.

According to Court papers, the 10 employees of the Extra Met Supermarket worked up to 72 hours per week and were paid between $2.00 and 4.70 per hour. The New York State minimum wage law requires an hourly wage of $5.15. When the store closed its doors in May of 2003, it did so without paying its employees for the last week that they worked at the Extra Met.

The charges in this case are accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise in a court of law.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Richard Balletta of the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief M. Patricia Smith, and Investigator Ismael Hernandez of the Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau.