Prosecutor, boro to probe workers’ complaint

Attorney for Red Bank cop says charges untrue, workers paid in full


Staff Writer

JEFF GRANIT staff Hispanic workers and advocates held a press conference outside Red Bank police headquarters Dec. 2 before filing complaints against a Red Bank police officer.JEFF GRANIT staff Hispanic workers and advocates held a press conference outside Red Bank police headquarters Dec. 2 before filing complaints against a Red Bank police officer. The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office will work in tandem with Red Bank police on an inquiry into charges brought against a borough police officer by five Hispanic workers.

The five immigrant laborers charged that Red Bank Sgt. John Riley Jr. owed them more than $13,000 for work done for his private demolition company, Riley Demolition, Red Bank.

The charges were made public at a press conference organized by Hispanic advocacy groups and held outside police headquarters at 90 Monmouth St. last week.

Riley’s attorney, Mitchell Ansell, of Ansell Zaro Grimm & Aaron, Ocean, said his client “vehemently denies” threatening or intimidating the workers.

He said the workers were paid an unspecified amount prior to the press conference.

The workers, who filed formal complaints following the Dec. 2 press conference, also said Riley threatened and intimidated them when they complained about not getting paid for work dating back 13 months.

“We’re going to do the investigation jointly with Red Bank,” said Monmouth County Prosecutor John Kaye of the internal affairs investigation into the charges.

“It’s for fairness and for community perception. It’s always perceived to be a more fair inquiry when it’s done by an agency other than the direct employer,” he said.

The investigation was requested by representatives of the Day Laborers and Immigrants Support Committee (DLISC) and the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLANJ), who organized the press conference.

“Across our nation, we see a pattern of exploitation against immigrant laborers,” Frank Argote-Freyre, Monmouth County chairman of the LLANJ, said at the press conference. “It is even more difficult to comprehend when it is a police officer who is charged with exploiting these hard-working men. It is symptomatic of how badly broken our national immigration system is.”

Kaye said the investigation would be conducted jointly by Assistant Prosecutor Tom Huth working with a Red Bank police officer designated to handle internal affairs investigations.

“Every police department must have one officer who is the internal affairs guy,” he said. “We were the first county to mandate that.”

He said while Riley wasn’t on duty when the alleged offenses took place, “it still involves a policeman’s conduct … and a policeman is on duty all the time.”

He said the investigation would look at all the circumstances, including the allegation that a uniformed police officer accompanied Riley when he purportedly visited the workers at home.

In a prepared statement, Red Bank Police Chief Mark Fitzgerald said last week none of Riley’s alleged actions took place while he was working for the borough as a police officer.

Fitzgerald promised “a full, fair and impartial investigation will be conducted and brought to a conclusion.”

A department spokesman said Riley, Fair Haven, has been on the force for 13 years.

Riley could not be reached for comment.

Ansell said Riley owed the workers “substantially less” than the total of $13,000 they claimed, but he declined to say how much, by Riley’s account, the men were owed.

According to Ansell, Riley paid the workers prior to the press conference.

“Riley went and paid them before the press conference, in full,” he said. “They were paid in full to their satisfaction. The workers were satisfied. They wanted to go back to work for him.”

“This is a simple dispute between employer and employee, nothing more,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the police department. It happens every day of the week

“To have a press conference, to me it seemed like it wasn’t necessary.”

According to the workers, who spoke through a translator, Riley owes Manuel Gutierrez $7,200 for work dating back from March of this year to October 2003, Roberto Dominguez $3,600 for four weeks in November and December 2003, Gabriel Moyotl $1,530 for three weeks work in August, Manuel Diaz $1,000 for two weeks wages in August and Esteban Camacho $600 for one week in February. The men are all natives of Mexico and residents of Red Bank.

The amounts don’t include overtime and interest possibly owed to the workers, who said Riley said he couldn’t pay them because he had not been paid by clients for work done by Riley Demo.

At the press conference, the men said they were hired by Riley at the rate of $100 a day for 8-10-hour days and longer. The men worked at different job sites including Paterson, Red Bank, Middletown, Sea Bright, Rumson, Fair Haven and Sea Girt.

On Monday, Argote-Freyre said two more workers have come forward with charges against Riley.

He said he did not know whether the five men were documented or undocumented immigrants, but that they are entitled to be paid for their labor regardless of their status.

Argote-Freyre and Mahonrry Hidalgo, of the DLISC, said at the press conference that Riley threatened the workers with violence and deportation if they came forward. They also said that Riley visited two of the workers at their homes, in the company of another uniformed police officer, and coerced them into accepting less wages than they were owed and into signing a waiver – written in English – of their rights to collect the remainder of the wages owed them.

All five workers have filed complaints with the Division of Wage and Hour Compliance.

The workers sought the assistance of the DLISC several weeks ago after trying for months to collect their pay from Riley, according to Hidalgo.

Speaking in Spanish and English, Hidalgo told the press conference that Riley has been contracting Latino immigrants in the Red Bank community at least for the last 13 months.

“He’s been abusing them, he has been not making good on his debt, he’s been harassing and intimidating them,” he said. “When he learned they were asking for help to recover the money, he threatened them with calling immigration. He also told them they wouldn’t be helped in this police department. That’s not true. Now who needs help is officer Riley.”

“If Riley pays in full the total amount of money he owes them, his obligation as an employer will be concluded,” he said.

“But we are requesting an investigation of his behavior, his intimidation tactics and also we know there are more victims. It’s not only these five workers.”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Argote-Freyre made an impassioned plea for change in U.S. laws dealing with immigration.

“We have millions of people living in an underground economy being exploited by slum lords and unscrupulous contractors,” he said. “Until we have a national immigration system that provides a mechanism for these individuals to become residents, and ultimately citizens, this exploitation will continue. Until we have a worker visa program with Mexico and Central and South America that permits immigrant laborers to travel freely between their native countries and the U.S. this exploitation will continue. Today the LLANJ wishes to salute these brave workers for standing up and saying no to exploitation.”

The DLISC is a member of the LLANJ, which is a statewide organization dedicated to the empowerment of the Latino community.