An East Providence cleaning company, Martins Maintenance, has been charged in an out-of-state grand jury indictment that accuses a New Bedford man of trafficking two people for the purposes of forced labor for the company at locations in Massachusetts, authorities said Monday.
The indictment, handed up by a grand jury on Friday and announced by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on Monday, accuses a 60-year-old man who worked for Martins, Fernando Roland, of recruiting a woman from a foreign country, taking control of her passport and telling her to do cleaning work for Martins Maintenance, according to a news release.
The woman’s pay, it says, was well below minimum wage, included no overtime, and she was forced to return some of the money to Roland and his 51-year-old live-in girlfriend for transportation and for living in a house where she was forced to cook and clean for Roland.
Roland kept the woman’s passport at various times and he threateningly told her she would be arrested by immigration authorities if she tried to return to her country of origin, says the news release, which does not identify the woman’s country.
Roland physically assaulted the woman, says the release. He also recruited a second victim, whom he threatened and also forced to work for Martins for below minimum wage, it says.
The indictment charges Roland with trafficking-related offenses counts and it charges his girlfriend, Lisa Matthews, with conspiracy to traffic persons for forced services.
It also charges Martins Maintenance as a company.
Massachusetts prosecutors say Martins Maintenance “had knowledge” of Roland’s conduct “related to his forcing the two individuals to do work for the company.”
Calling the investigation a “witch hunt,” the owner of the company, Manuel E. Martins Jr., told The Providence Journal Monday that he had no knowledge of the trafficking and forced labor offenses that the company is accused of. He said that when he learned Massachusetts investigators were looking into the case, he offered to help.
An upset Martins also said he is skeptical of the offenses the company is accused of.
If Roland, who operated as a subcontractor not an employee, trafficked two people and forced them to work for Martins, the company will make restitution to the victims, Martins said.
“We need to find out if it’s true or not,” Martins said, adding that he has never met Roland.
“We wouldn’t have been around for 43 years if we were a scumbag company,” Martins said.
Without being specific, Martins said the allegations in the indictment are made up and he argued that they stem from union-related politics that have targeted his family’s non-union company.
“This is just a witch hunt and it’s too bad that they are targeting a family business,” he said.
The two employees referenced in the indictment, he said, worked for a subcontractor not for Martins Maintenance.
The indictment charges Martins Maintenance with seven counts of trafficking of persons for forced service, nine counts of failure to pay minimum wage and eight counts of failure to pay overtime.
It charges Roland with 12 counts of trafficking of persons for forced service, another 12 counts of willful failure to pay minimum wage, and another 12 counts of willful failure to pay overtime. It charges him with single count of assault and battery and another count of assault.
Martins Maintenance started in a basement in 1976, Martins said, adding that it was a company started by immigrants. It now operates in 50 states, often working with subcontractors, he said.
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