|By Anika Myers Palm, The Orlando
Sentinel, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 19, 2010 --The federal government has seized money from a company that it says misled hundreds of foreign workers brought to Orlando illegally to work in hotels.
The forfeited funds are tied to labor-contracting company Very Reliable Services, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The government took nearly $850,000 that is either in VR Services' accounts or owed to the company.
A complaint seeking court authorization for the forfeiture of the funds describes VR Services' business as an unlawful "scheme to employ foreign nationals who were not authorized to work in the United States."
During the past several years, brokers associated with VR Services and related companies would charge workers thousands of dollars to connect the workers with legal, temporary work in the U.S. Ultimately, the brokers collected more than $50 million from people in Brazil, Russia, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates who wanted U.S. jobs.
At least six Orlando-area hotels had contracts to use VR Services workers, including the Hilton Walt Disney World Resort, the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport.
The hotels paid VR Services, which in turn paid the workers, who rarely received visas and generally made less than minimum wage.
VR Services closed in December and has since been investigated by the government of Brazil, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security. The closure of the company left the workers without pay and -- in many cases -- in legal limbo about whether they can remain in the U.S.
Once the Justice Department's case is closed, workers can petition to receive some of the forfeited money, U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Steve Cole said in an e-mail.
The workers already have sued the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort and the Westin Imagine in an attempt to recover back payments.
Anika Myers Palm can be reached at 407-420-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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