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Underwood announces lawsuit against employment agency operators for scamming vulnerable New Yorkers

PRESS RELEASE

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced a lawsuit against employment agency operators Jose M. Ortiz (a/k/a Jose M. Velez, Jose M. Ortiz-Velez, Joseph Ortiz), 44, of New Jersey; Maritza M. Quinones (a/k/a Ms. Velez), 42, of Pennsylvania; and Johanna Y. Miranda (a/k/a Lisa Garcia, Julia, Isabella, Carmen, Karol), 42, of the Bronx, for allegedly conducting deceptive business practices in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens that targeted unemployed and financially vulnerable individuals looking for low-wage cleaning and maintenance jobs. The Attorney General's lawsuit seeks a court order enjoining Ortiz, Quinones, and Miranda from engaging in fraudulent conduct; restitution for complainants; and over $300,000 in fines and penalties.

"It is shameful to steal money from vulnerable New Yorkers looking for honest work," Attorney General Underwood said. "We allege that these scam artists set up their business to target unemployed and financially vulnerable New Yorkers with the promise of a job. My office will continue to investigate and prosecute businesses and individuals that try to scam New Yorkers."        

As alleged in the petition filed in Bronx County Supreme Court today, the Attorney General's investigation found that Ortiz, Quinones, and Miranda falsely advertised cleaning and maintenance jobs that purportedly paid $13.50 to $29.00 an hour and charged upfront fees for these employment opportunities they knew were fake. The three agency operators targeted unemployed and financially vulnerable individuals looking for low-wage cleaning and maintenance jobs by putting advertisements in Spanish-speaking newspapers such as El Diario, and online classified jobs exchanges such as "Clasificado" and "Especialito." They also advertised in the New York Post, AM New York, and Metro New York.

The respondents charged between $140 and $499 for "guaranteed jobs" and "immediate hire" cleaning and maintenance employment opportunities, but then allegedly failed to obtain jobs for any of their clients. One of their agencies, Empire Services, allegedly sent customers to job interviews with companies that were unfamiliar with the agency and did not have available jobs.

Consumers were also allegedly told they had to pay upfront fees for an Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") training course, an OSHA course completion certificate, and an OSHA license, in order to secure a job. Victims were led to believe that under New York State law, it is illegal to work as an office cleaner or maintenance worker without an OSHA license. The course certificates and licenses were all a scam – there is no New York State or federal requirement that office cleaners and maintenance workers be OSHA certified.

Once consumers realized they had been scammed and demanded refunds, Ortiz, Quinones, and Miranda allegedly disconnected their phones and abandoned their offices without issuing any refunds. A few weeks later, they would allegedly relaunch the same business under a different name and in another New York City neighborhood.

Ortiz and Quinones operated Empire Services in the South Bronx from June 2015 through December 2015. Ortiz and Miranda operated Empire Safety Services from midtown Manhattan and the South Bronx from June 2017 through November 2017. Ortiz and Miranda operated Global Training Services in the South Bronx from October 2017 through January 2018 and have been operating National Safety Training Services from Jamaica, Queens since February 2018.

The investigation was conducted by Investigator Ramon Almodovar and Senior Investigator Angel LaPorte, under the supervision of Supervising Investigator Sylvia Rivera; and Senior Investigator Andres Rodriguez and Investigator Kevin Briffa, under the supervision of Supervising Investigator Cynthia Kane.

This case was also brought with the assistance of Robert Murphy, Deputy Director of the Directorate of Training and Education for the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration; Lee Grabel, Attorney with the Office of the Solicitor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor; Eileen Franko, Director of the Division of Safety of Health, New York State Department of Labor; Investigator John Gaskill and Sarah Frasch, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds, Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General-In-Charge Roberto Lebron and Assistant Attorney General Jason Clark of the Harlem Regional Office, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Jane Azia of the Consumer Frauds Bureau, and Gary Brown, Acting Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs.