Glenwood Springs company joins Mexican workers’ lawsuit | PostIndependent.com

Back to: News

Glenwood Springs company joins Mexican workers’ lawsuit

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Midwest Drywall Co. has joined 69 Mexican workers in a lawsuit accusing a Texas company of human trafficking.Midwest was originally named as a defendant in a complaint and demand for unpaid wages filed in Garfield County. But the case was moved to federal court on March 5, and Midwest shifted to the plaintiff’s side of the case Thursday.Ken Stettner, an attorney for Midwest, said JNS Construction Services LLC filed a false document with the Department of Labor to obtain work visas. The document was purportedly on Midwest letterhead and represented that Midwest needed around 100 workers for a project near Vail. But Stettner said Midwest never made that representation, and the letter even included a forged signature.”We were victimized, and that’s why we’re now on the plaintiff’s side,” Stettner said. “That was not our letterhead. We did not request men, and we had no knowledge of that.”Midwest is based in Kansas and has an office in Glenwood Springs.The lawsuit was originally filed after about 88 workers arrived in Glenwood Springs in late November. Many said they hoped to make some cash for their families before Christmas. They said they borrowed and spent significant amounts of money to travel from various locations in Mexico because JNS, of Texas, promised them work. They ended up in limbo at local hotels after not getting the jobs they came for.John Herzer, who’s named as the principal owner of JNS in the lawsuit, said previously that he made a cash offer to the men and sent two buses to take them back to Mexico. He declined to comment Friday.When the buses arrived Dec. 21, most of the men went back to Mexico, but about 10 stayed behind and became illegal after their work visas expired.Don Kaufman, who filed the lawsuit free of charge on behalf of the workers, said every one of them arrived in the U.S. legally with an H-2B visa.Kaufman said Friday the case now involves more than just a breach of contract and demand for unpaid wages. The complaint refers to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005.”The main thrust of our case now is human trafficking,” he said. “This is the first time that a local, legitimate business and 69 documented, lawful aliens are suing a human trafficker based upon this statute.”He said Midwest didn’t know its corporate identity had been stolen, and JNS applied for the visas unlawfully and transported the workers here, which amounts to human trafficking.”This is only the tip of the iceberg,” Kaufman said. “We originally only sued for unpaid wages, but as it turns out, Midwest appears to be stone-cold innocent, and these 69 men have no beef with an innocent local business.”JNS had retained the Holland and Hart law firm in Denver, which Kaufman described as the “most expensive law firm in the U.S.” But Holland and Hart was granted a motion to withdraw from the case April 8, court records show. Kaufman said JNS isn’t currently represented by an attorney in this case.The complaint also names Leno Aseudo and Leno and Co. LLC as defendants, stating the organization worked for JNS by contacting and organizing the workers. The complaint says the workers are owed at least $910 each for a three week period, totaling $177,450. Kaufman said additional damages being sought could potentially add up to a much higher amount.The complaint also says the defendants took advantage of the workers’ inability to speak English and threatened them with retaliation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in order to keep them in line.”Isolated, disoriented, unable to speak English, and unfamiliar with their rights under American law, individual plaintiffs were exploited by defendants and felt powerless to escape,” the complaint states. “They were warehoused without an ability to object or leave.”Catholic Charities helped out the workers initially and put them in touch with Kaufman. Both have said they’re just trying to seek justice for the workers.Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121pfowler@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO