July 31, 2008

Courts Retain Cleaning Companies

By Tom Mooney, The Providence Journal, R.I.

Jul. 31--The state courts plan to keep doing business with two cleaning companies that the Carcieri administration fired last week after 31 of their custodians were arrested as suspected illegal immigrants.

And Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch is also sticking with the one custodian he has left, even though the worker's boss and the president of the company has admitted to ignoring a federal law to keep certain documents on his employees.

"Our full-time cleaning guy Caesar has done nothing wrong," said Lynch spokesman Michael Healey. "He's here legally, he's worked extra hard and we're not going to let him be victimized."

The court system's decision came after a contract review by court administrators who imposed conditional requirements on both companies to ensure their workers are properly identified, said court spokesman Craig Berke.

TriState Enterprises, of North Providence, has agreed to fingerprint 53 current workers it has working in the courts and to enter their names into the federal E-verify database that screens the validity of Social Security numbers.

Berke said the second company, Falcon Maintenance, of Johnston, which currently has 10 workers performing custodial work in court buildings, hasn't yet indicated if it could meet those additional requirements for continued employment.

If it does, however, Berke said Falcon would keep its work.

"As long as they are meeting the terms of the contract and no one or no company has been charged with any wrongdoing, we intend to maintain those contracts with these companies," Berke said, adding however, "we want to know who is in our buildings."

Immigration agents, accompanied by state police detectives, rounded up the 31 suspected illegal immigrants in a sweep through six courthouses on July 16. The agents were investigating a tip that some employees may have used fraudulent identification to get their jobs -- and used court copy machines in the process. No criminal charges have been filed since the arrests.

Last week Department of Administration Director Jerome Williams said he decided to terminate close to 50 executive-branch contracts with the companies after an internal review found the companies had been reporting many fewer employees to the Department of Labor and Training than they had told the state they had available.

Falcon told state labor officials it had eight employees in January and five in both February and March, and TriState reported having only six employees during each of those months. But the state "has reason to believe" both companies have "significantly more employees than that," the state's purchasing agent, Lorraine Hynes, told Williams in a letter. And "That gives rise to serious concerns."

Williams said: "The way I am interpreting that is [that] they are telling us one thing and reporting something else."

Companies are required by law to withhold payroll taxes from their employees. Also, workers' compensation insurance premiums are based on the number of employees a company reports it has on its books.

Besides an apparent discrepancy in employee figures, Hynes said, neither company produced requested evidence that they had enrolled -- though both told the state they had -- in the E-Verify program, or that they had required their employees to prove their identities and eligibility to work in this country, information that all employers have been required by federal law to compile and report on federal I-9 forms since Nov. 6, 1986.

In an interview last week, TriState President Anthony E. DeSimone Jr. and Vice President David A. Civetti said they had been using the E-verify system since May but that federal law prohibited them from running the names of current employees; it could only be used for new employees.

Berke said yesterday there was discussion that TriState might have to fire and then rehire its workers so as not to violate the federal law while at the same time meeting the court's new demand.

Regarding Falcon -- which supplies the worker to the attorney general's office as well -- purchasing agent Hynes identified two other concerns: that Vincent D'Elia, the company's president, "admitted" he hadn't been completing the required I-9 form for employment eligibility nor had he proof of current liability and workers' compensation insurance.

Court spokesman Berke emphasized that no criminal charges had been brought against either company nor any of their workers to date.

"The Judiciary certainly doesn't condone illegal activity in its buildings, and when it's discovered it's our obligation to report it. We're satisfied our security screening that takes place daily is more than adequate."

By contract, Berke said, the custodians' names and copies of their driver's licenses and Social Security numbers are given to Capitol Police, who run criminal background checks on them prior to them starting work. The majority of the custodians work evenings, sign in when they arrive and pass through metal detectors. Capitol Police keep records of who doesn't show up for work, in part so that the judiciary isn't billed for work not performed. The workers, Berke said, are never alone in the court buildings.

"Sensitive documents are secured nightly in vaults and locked in file cabinets so we're not worried that cleaners are getting access to sensitive documents."

Berke said Falcon uses one worker to clean the judicial annex on Weybosset Street in Providence, four at the Newport County Courthouse and five at the Traffic Tribunal in Cranston.

TriState has significantly more workers, with 15 at the Licht Judicial Complex in Providence, 15 at the Kent County Courthouse in Warwick, 3 at the McGrath Judicial Complex in South Kingstown and 20 at the Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence.

Originally, two custodians cleaned the attorney general's office but one failed to show up for work after the courthouse raids and is believed to be an illegal immigrant, Healey has said.

Healey said the attorney general was sticking with the last custodian they have at least until new bids go out for the job. Otherwise, the busy office would have no one to clean it for upwards of a month.

"There's no question" that the reported admission by Falcon's president that he wasn't keeping the proper I-9 forms "is a concern," said Healey, "but we feel at least an equal obligation to a man who has done nothing but work hard for us."


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