Tortilla factory owner Erasmo Ponce arrested after probe by AG Schneiderman [NY Daily News]

Wed, 03/28/2012 - 5:55pm

Investigation sparked by death of worker Juan Baten

By Erica Pearson / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Updated: Wednesday, March 28, 2012, 4:34 PM
A vigil outside Tortilleria Chinantla to mark the one-year anniversary of worker Juan Baten’s death.

Bryan Pace for New York Daily News

A vigil outside Tortilleria Chinantla to mark the one-year anniversary of worker Juan Baten’s death.

Anthony Lanzilote for New York Daily News

Erasmo Ponce, owner of Tortilleria Chinanatla, was arrested for allegedly falsifying business documents and wage violations.

The owner of a Brooklyn tortilla factory where a worker was crushed to death has been charged with filing false tax documents and not paying employees overtime.

Erasmo Ponce, who is also accused of not paying for worker’s compensation insurance, was arrested Tuesday and released without bail.

He could not be reached for comment on the charges brought by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

But the girlfriend of Juan Baten, the 22-year-old worker killed in January 2011, said the arrest brought her some comfort.

“When Juan died, he only waited a couple of days to reopen the factory. He didn't act like his death was important, like it mattered to him,” she said.

“They treated me like I was just an ignorant, dumb immigrant.”

The conditions at Tortilleria Chinantla in Bushwick have been under scrutiny since Baten, a Guatemalan immigrant, fell into a dough-mixing machine.

If the machine's required safety guard had been in place, the accident wouldn’t have happened, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found.

The federal agency fined Ponce’s company more than $62,000 last summer.

Schneiderman decided to prosecute Ponce after a Workers’ Compensation Board probe.

"My office is committed to vigorous enforcement of the laws protecting New York's workers,” Schneiderman said. “We will aggressively pursue employers who violate labor laws, including criminally when appropriate."

A state investigator visited the factory days after Baten’s death and interviewed 11 workers, according to court documents.

He found Ponce had not been contributing to workers compensation insurance and was paying workers off the books and not giving them overtime.

“Of course nothing will bring Juan Baten back, but we're gratified that a measure of justice has been done in this case,” said Daniel Gross from Brandworkers, a worker advocacy group that had called for an investigation of Ponce.

“These charges will provide a measure of comfort to Juan Baten's family and will help ensure that such a grevious tragedy never happens again in New York's food processing industry.”

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