A business owner has agreed to pay $447,000 in restitution in a case that started with the death of a worker in a tortilla dough mixer.
Erasmo Ponce, owner of Tortilleria Chinantla in Brooklyn, NY, has pleaded guilty to failing to provide workers’ compensation insurance, a felony, and not paying employees time-and-a-half for overtime, a misdemeanor.
The company failed to have workers’ comp insurance for two separate periods, once for five months and then for 11 months. When authorities found the factory was operating without workers’ comp insurance, they shut down the facility.
The tortilla factory’s operations were investigated following the Jan. 24, 2011, death of worker Juan Batten, 22. Batten had stuck his hand into the mixer to either push the dough down or retrieve something that had fallen in.
Once the blades dragged him into the machine, he had no time to scream for help.
OSHA investigated and issued one willful, six serious and one other-than-serious violation with $62,400 in fines.
The company appealed the fines. Ponce’s lawyer says a settlement with OSHA is imminent.
The death drew attention to Ponce’s multi-million dollar business. New York state authorities started separate investigations which uncovered the workers’ comp and pay violations.
The $447,000 in restitution will cover survivor benefits for Batten’s family, unpaid overtime and unpaid unemployment insurance.
Ponce is expected to be sentenced at a later date to weekend imprisonment, the equivalent of 90 days.
“My office will continue to take forceful action, including criminal prosecution where appropriate, against employers who violate our state’s labor laws,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Ponce’s lawyer, Manuel Portela, said he felt the case should have been handled without the criminal prosecution. “He (Ponce) wanted to acknowledge mistakes, correct the mistakes and move forward,” said Portela.
The New York Times reports Ponce’s business is a national enterprise with several million dollars a year in revenue.