New Bedford Man Charged in Connection with Human Trafficking and Wage Theft for Forced Labor, Threats Against Couple
Also Faces Larceny and Assault Charges; Couple Worked for Defendant’s Cleaning Company in Southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod
NEW BEDFORD – A New Bedford man has been charged with human trafficking, larceny, assault, and wage theft in connection with forcing a couple to work for his cleaning company and threatening them, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
Donny Sousa, age 38, was indicted last week by a Bristol County Grand Jury on the charges of Trafficking of Person for Forced Service (2 counts), Assault with a Dangerous Weapon (2 counts), Possession of a Firearm, Motor Vehicle Insurance Fraud, Larceny over $250, Non-Payment of Wages (2 counts), Failure to Provide a Suitable Paystub (2 counts), Employer Failure to Pay Minimum Wage (2 counts), and Untimely Payment of Wages (2 counts). Sousa will be arraigned in Bristol Superior Court at a later date.
“This defendant allegedly forced this couple to work for him for more than a hundred hours each week without paying them legal wages,” said AG Healey. “Human trafficking and wage theft are crimes that our office will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute to protect residents from unfair and abusive conduct.”
The AG’s Human Trafficking and Fair Labor Divisions began an investigation into this matter after a referral from Greater Boston Legal Services. The investigation was conducted as part of a collaborative cross-bureau effort on labor trafficking cases.
The investigation revealed that Sousa allegedly recruited a couple from Brazil to travel to the United States with their young son to work for his cleaning company, DMS Cleaning Services, based out of New Bedford. Sousa allegedly promised the victims $3,000 each a month to work for him.
The couple arrived in the United States in December 2014 and Sousa had them begin work within hours of stepping off the plane. The AG’s Office alleges that the couple worked 12 to 15 hour shifts, seven days a week, cleaning between seven and 12 commercial properties each night. The businesses included banks, car dealerships, stores, and restaurants in locations such as Bridgewater, Fall River, Bourne, Hyannis, Dennis and Marshfield.
From the time they arrived in December 2014 to when they fled in March 2015, the victims were only paid $3,600 in total and they only had three days off during that time period. The AG’s Office alleges that Sousa still owes the couple more than $10,000 each in unpaid wages.
After the couple repeatedly asked for the rest of their wages, Sousa allegedly produced and threatened them with a handgun and refused to pay them the wages they were owed. Subsequent investigation revealed Sousa does not have a license to carry a firearm or an FID card.
Sousa also allegedly made a number of other illegal wage and hour deductions from their pay including deductions for equipment, meals, and a cell phone.
The AG’s Office further alleges that while returning home from a cleaning job, the couple got in a car accident while driving Sousa’s vehicle. Sousa allegedly deducted $1,400 from the wages owed to them for damage to the leased vehicle and also filed a false insurance claim listing himself as the driver at the time of the accident.
After the victims fled, they applied for and were granted a one year restraining order against Sousa in New Bedford District Court.
These are allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
This is another example of AG Healey’s work on behalf of vulnerable populations. Most recently in May, a couple from Qatar paid $3,000 to resolve allegations that they failed to properly pay a live-in employee for childcare services in violation of the state’s wage and hour and domestic worker laws.
The AG’s Human Trafficking Division focuses on policy, prevention and prosecution and includes a team of specialized prosecutors, victim advocates and Massachusetts State Police troopers who handle high impact, multi-jurisdictional human trafficking investigations and prosecutions across the state. Through the Human Trafficking Division, the AG’s Office has charged more than 25 individuals in connection with human trafficking since the law was passed.
The AG’s Fair Labor Division enforces the laws regulating the payment of wages, including prevailing wage, minimum wage, and overtime laws. Workers who believe that their rights have been violated are encouraged to call the Office’s Fair Labor Hotline at (617) 727-3465 or visit the Attorney General’s Workplace Rights website www.mass.gov/ago/fairlabor.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Snook of AG Healey’s Human Trafficking Division and Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Cotter and Inspector Jennifer Pak of the AG’s Fair Labor Division, with assistance from Victim Witness Advocate Rebecca Auld of the AG’s Victim Witness Services Division and the Massachusetts State Police.