Immigrants Win the Battle Against Ex-Store Owner
From El Diario
November 6, 2003

By Izadeli Montalvo

A group of immigrants won the first battle against the ex-owner of the defunct supermarket Extra Met yesterday, after alleging that he had exploited them and leaving them jobless when the store closed without warning.

New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced in a press conference that the accused, Rafael Montes de Oca, is facing charges of not paying salaries and not paying the minimum wage to his former employees, the majority of which were Dominicans.

Calls to the office of Lawyer Robert Fierdman, legal representative of the accused, had not been answered at the close of this edition.

Although it is not usual in this type of case, the authorities were able to obtain sufficient evidence to justify cause.

“The immigrants are abused, and they are imprisoned so others can easily take advantage of them. They are victims of discrimination,” said Spitzer. “Not only are we going to try to recoup the money that these workers are owed, but we are going to prosecute with criminal charges,” added the State Attorney General.

A total of ten victims came together with the Solicitor and New York State Senator Eric Schneiderman to publicly denounce the presumed conditions under which they tried to earn their money.

“He spoke down to us, and humiliated us because he knew that we needed the work,” said Sofie Guzmán, mother of a family in Manhattan who functioned as a packer for the supermarket for three years.

Guzmán said that she only earned money from tips that clients gave her voluntarily, and that the obligations of her job included work like cleaning, for which she was not paid.

“I felt bad. I had to work from 8 in the morning to 9 at night to earn around 30 dollars,” said the woman, a 52 year-old mother, now unemployed.

The majority of the complaints signaled that the workers were working between 12 and 13 hours daily for 250 dollars a week, a salary much below that which is required by state labor laws.

Other allegations on the part of the ex-employees were that Montes de Oca now has a new business under the name Exito Foods, whose owner René Caraballo, apparently rented the old premises where Extra Met operated, at 547 138th Street.

This denunciation has been confirmed by the office of the State Attorney General, according to spokesperson Maritere Arce.

A supervisor of Exito Foods, who declined to identify himself, said in a telephone interview that Carabello is out of the country, and that he doesn’t know Montes de Oca.

The accused appeared before Judge Martin Murphy in the Criminal Court of Manhattan, where he declared himself innocent of the charges.

If found guilty, he will be get a minimum of two years, and have to pay restitution.

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Translated from Spanish by Charlotte Triggs

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