Indy staffing company blasts federal government, responds to penalties

INDIANAPOLIS - Indianapolis staffing company Access Therapies is responding days after the United States Department of Labor announced penalties against the company, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.

As RTV6 reported Monday, under terms of a court order, Access Therapies must pay $81,454 in civil money penalties and $39,946 in back wages to six physical therapists for violations of the H-1B provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

MORE: $121K penalties issued against Indy staffing co.

In a statement issued late Friday afternoon, Access Therapies said it is committed to 100 percent compliance with all immigration laws.

"Therefore, it is disappointed that the Federal Government, even after entering into a full and final settlement agreement based on alleged past practices is now using the media to continue its campaign against Access Therapies," read the statement. 

In 2007, Access Therapies became the subject of a detailed investigation of its compliance with the H-1B provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

"Over a period of several years, the Federal Government requested and was given access to all of Access Therapies’ records and documents," read the statement. "Federal agents and Government Officials examined those records in detail. Those records encompassed nearly $35 million in payroll paid by Access Therapies to its employees."

Access Therapies has an office on West 71st Street in Indianapolis, and according to its website, it provides health care staffing to hospitals, schools and other facilities using H-1B visa sponsorships to hire workers from India, the Philippines and other foreign countries.

The H-1B program allows employers to hire foreign workers temporarily in the U.S. on a nonimmigrant basis in specialty occupations.

Access Therapies will be debarred from participation in the H-1B program for a one-year period, according to the federal government.

"Access Therapies vigorously disputed the allegations made by the Federal Government," read the statement issued Friday. "However, and after several years of investigations and litigation prosecuted by the federal government, Access Therapies agreed to a settlement requiring payment of $39,946 in back wages. This is a very small percentage of the total payroll paid by Access Therapies during the time in question."

An investigation by the Wage and Hour Division found the company misrepresented facts on its application when petitioning for and employing H-1B nonimmigrant workers.

As a result, the division issued the company a determination letter seeking the back wages owed.
The federal investigation also found employees were due back wages, because they were not compensated with the required prevailing wages for productive work time or for pre-assignment and post-assignment time, as required.

A Department of Labor spokesperson said Access Therapies failed to withhold applicable employment taxes, such as payments to Medicare, FICA and federal and state income tax.

Access Therapies is also facing a federal lawsuit accusing it of abusing legal foreign workers and violating federal labor laws.

According to court documents, Access Therapies engaged in witness tampering, calling H-1B employee witnesses and telling them to ignore a court-ordered email production request.

The lawsuit, filed by former Access Therapies worker Rituraj Singh Panwar, also lists manager Ramon Villegas and affiliates RN Staff Inc., Rehability Care as defendants.

According to the federal lawsuit, Access Therapies does not pay its employees prevailing wages as required by law.

Panwar's attorneys allege Access Therapies engaged in a "fraudulent enterprise" and violated federal anti-trafficking and forced labor laws as well as Indiana's state wage laws.

Indianapolis attorney Gary Welsh represents several foreign workers who are being sued by Access Therapies for breach of contract.

He thinks the U.S. Department of Labor took too long to act.

"The Department should be ashamed of itself," Welsh wrote in an email Monday to RTV6. "Because the Department waited so long to act, many employees with pending complaints against the Department had already entered into settlement agreements to end the litigation Access Therapies brought against them in Marion County courts, which were then used to bar them from recovering under federal law.

"Access Therapies is simply using its affiliated company, RN Staff with the same owners and employees, to file new H-1B petitions so the one-year time bar won't stop them from doing business in any way."

U.S. Department of Labor spokesman Scott Allen told Kenney investigations take time, and it was not immediately clear if Access Therapies could participate in the H-1B program under a different name, such as RN Staff.

The Call 6 Investigators examined court records and found dozens of pending cases in Marion County in which Access Therapies is listed as the plaintiff.

"The exploitation of these foreign workers amounts to a modern day version of indentured servitude," said Welsh in a 2013 interview with Kenney.

In 2013, the Call 6 Investigators stopped by Access Therapies office on West 71st Street.

Manager Ramon Villegas, who is named in the federal lawsuit, told RTV6 the allegations are not true and deferred to the company's attorney.

Follow Kara Kenney on Twitter: @karakenney6 | Facebook: KaraKenneyNews

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