Bristol County Labor Trafficking Case Back on After SJC Decision
A Bristol County case against a janitorial company charged with labor trafficking a New Bedford woman has gotten the go-ahead from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
On Thursday, the highest court in the state reversed a Bristol Superior Court decision to dismiss indictments against the family-owned firm.
According to court documents, Fernando Roland, an employee at Martins Maintenance, Inc. in East Providence, allegedly trafficked at least two women, one of whom lives in New Bedford.
Roland worked as a janitor for the business.
According to the SJC decision, Roland allegedly labor trafficked a 22-year-old woman who moved from Senegal to New Bedford to attend school in 2016.
Identified only by the initials S.D., the woman was persuaded to give up her passport and other important documents to Roland, and even reluctantly agreed to marry his girlfriend's son.
Roland allegedly brought her to his assigned work sites to clean, gave her Martins-branded work shirts to wear, and told her to use an assumed name if asked.
The documents allege that S.D. worked at company sites for 9-15 hours per night five to seven times a week, for which Roland paid her between 20 and 25 dollars (after deducting money for rent and transportation.)
Supervisors allegedly met S.D. on work sites with Roland multiple times, with the son of the company founder allegedly meeting her once.
Another woman, identified as A.C., was also trafficked to clean for Roland, the court documents allege.
He allegedly kept her passport, gave her a company shirt and brought her to work sites, and introduced her as his daughter to supervisors, despite her being 62 years old.
The indictments against Roland are still pending; the case in question relates to whether the company itself is at fault.
The SJC decision notes that despite allegedly racking up impossibly high numbers of cleaning hours, bringing other people to work sites with him, and habitually violating rules around punching in to work, Roland was only given a verbal warning by supervisors.
In its opinion, the court stated that for indictments, prosecutors only need show sufficient facts that would lead someone to reasonably believe an offense was committed — not "proof beyond a reasonable doubt," as is necessary for a conviction.
Court justices wrote that the company may be criminally responsible for Roland's actions because it knowingly benefited from them, with at least two of his supervisors having direct knowledge of what he was doing.
"The orders dismissing the labor trafficking indictments are vacated, and the cases are remanded to the Superior Court," the SJC concluded.