Bruno Caballero Cruz first encountered Gabriel Francois’ Twin Cities’ firm in September 2007 when Bruno and a few other immigrant workers were hired by Integrity Construction Service to do miscellaneous jobs on construction work sites (No, I did not make up this firm’s name). The workers were promised $12 an hour. Bruno was excited because with this wage he could send money home to his wife and six kids in Mexico.
Bruno was paid for the first two weeks. Then the third week, Francois didn’t pay the workers and refused to return their calls. The workers turned to the Minneapolis-St. Paul-based Workers Interfaith Network (WIN) workers center for help. As the WIN staff and volunteers began looking into Integrity Construction Service and Gabriel Francois, they learned of his history of criminal activity.
Francois has operated more than sixteen businesses and has been the subject of approximately 186 lawsuits in Hennepin County, Minnesota alone. In 1999, he was convicted of bankruptcy fraud. He has sold phony vending machines, cleaning contracts, and property.13 In 2004, he was sentenced to thirty-seven months in state prison after pleading guilty to two counts of theft by swindle.14 Throughout his notorious career, he has routinely stolen wages from workers.
After Francois got out of jail, he started stealing from workers once again. He would pay for the first few weeks but then stop paying workers. He would bounce checks. He would shortchange workers on their hours. With the help of the workers center, Bruno and four other workers filed lawsuits against Francois. Bruno was awarded $2527 in back wages and damages, and two other friends got awards as well. Unfortunately, they’ll probably never see the funds despite Francois and his wife continuing to live in a $457,400 home in Bloomington. Francois has at least forty-two judgments against him and owes almost a million dollars to people.
“Few of these judgments are for wage theft, but Francois has stolen wages throughout his criminal career,” insists Brian Payne, an organizer with the Workers Interfaith Network. “Low-wage workers have neither the time nor the resources to pursue stolen wages through the legal system.” Brian knows another ten workers who claim they are owed more than $40,000 in back wages from Francois, but Brian believes that figure is just a small portion of the wages he owes workers. In March 2008, WIN passed out leaflets at places where Francois recruits workers warning other immigrants of Francois’s practice of stealing wages.
Anyone who willfully and repeatedly steals wages from workers is a criminal. Had Francois been stopped years ago, he might not have swindled the entire community.