Mexican immigrant who said he worked illegally for Trump fired after 18 years

Labourers working illegally for president 'are material witnesses to state crimes' says attorney

Joshua Partlow
WINGDALE, New York
,Nick Miroff,David A. Fahrenthold,Alice Crites
Friday 08 March 2019 18:48
Comments
One of Mr Trump's prized properties, a club in Bedminster, New Jersey, built and maintained by labourers from Costa Rica and other Latin American countries who worked there for more than 16 years.
One of Mr Trump's prized properties, a club in Bedminster, New Jersey, built and maintained by labourers from Costa Rica and other Latin American countries who worked there for more than 16 years.

One morning last May, Eric Trump sent a text message to the caretaker of the shooting range he and his brother own in upstate New York. The weather was getting warmer, and it was time to plant crops to attract deer that the Trumps and their friends could hunt.

"Juan - how are the fields coming along," Eric Trump wrote to Juan Quintero. "They need to be planted in the next week or so in order to make the season. Hope you are great."

"I'm working in it," Mr Quintero replied in his limited English.

The 42-year-old was so trusted by the Trumps that he had not one but two jobs working for the family. He was a greenskeeper at the Trump National Golf Club Hudson Valley in Hopewell Junction, where he would work eight-hour shifts on weekdays. Then he would put in five more hours each day as a contractor at the 171-acre hunting retreat called Leather Hill Preserve, which serves as a private weekend playground for Donald Trump's sons and the property's co-owners.

He also was an immigrant from Mexico who had crossed the border more than two decades ago and was working illegally in the United States.

In January, Mr Quintero lost his golf course job after 18 years of employment - part of a purge of undocumented workers from Mr Trump's businesses amid revelations that the company relied on illegal labour for years, well into his presidency. Gone, too, was his side job at the hunting retreat.

"All of the years you give them, and they just let you go," Mr Quintero said in a recent interview at his home in Poughkeepsie. "They do not say, 'Let's do something, let's try to help you.' They simply said, 'Your documents are not valid,' and that is it."

Mr Quintero said he never directly told Eric Trump about his immigration status. But he said he remained employed by the hunting lodge for more than a year after not providing the owners with a Social Security number when they sought to issue him a debit card.

Mr Quintero, whose work at the shooting range has not been previously disclosed, is the second undocumented employee to step forward in recent weeks to say he did work directly to assist Eric Trump, who along with brother Donald Trump Jr has been running the Trump Organisation's day-to-day operations.

Eric Trump, who separately owns Leather Hill Preserve with his brother and several other partners, declined to comment. Mr Trump Jr did not respond to requests for comment. It is unclear whether they knew about Mr Quintero's immigration status.

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Mr Quintero's relationship with the president's son shows how the Trump family's reliance on low-wage immigrants without legal status has gone beyond its golf courses. His work at the shooting range deepens questions about what measures the Trump family and its businesses have taken to prevent the hiring of workers the president casts as invaders and criminals.

Mr Quintero said he met with Eric Trump to discuss his job duties and shared copies of text messages sent from a number matching that of Mr Trump's personal cellphone - saved in his contacts under the name "Erik Boss."

The exchanges show that Eric Trump closely tracked Mr Quintero's work.

"Hi Juan. How is the planting coming along? Did you ever get to the small fields - the two off of the rifle range and the soy bean plot?" Mr Trump wrote nine days after first texting the caretaker about the fields.

"Rapido, my friend," another owner, Jeffrey Ferraro, chimed in. "Mas rapido pot favour," he wrote, apparently making a typo.

In recent months, The Washington Post has reported that the Trump Organisation employed immigrant workers without legal status at five golf courses in New York and New Jersey. One of the president's prized properties, a club in Bedminster, New Jersey, was built and maintained by dozens of labourers from Costa Rica and other Latin American countries who worked there for more than 16 years.

In all, The Post has interviewed 33 immigrants who have worked for the president's clubs without legal status. Among them was Gabriel Sedano, a maintenance worker from Mexico who told The Post in January that he had a set of keys for a home that Eric Trump used at the Trump course in Westchester County, New York. Mr Sedano said he was responsible for taking out the trash and making repairs.

Mr Quintero and other former Trump workers said they believe that their supervisors knew they lacked legal status - and that the company appeared to be concerned about violating immigration laws only in recent months.

After The New York Times published a report in December about two immigrant housekeepers who worked at the Bedminster club without proper documentation, the company began an audit of its workforce and fired workers at various properties.

In January, the Trump Organisation announced that it would expand the use of the government's E-Verify program to screen new hires at all of its US properties. The company had not widely used the tool, despite a claim to the contrary by Mr Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Eric Trump has described the process of firing workers as "truly heartbreaking," adding: "Our employees are like family, but when presented with fake documents, an employer has little choice. This situation is not unique to Trump Organisation - it is one that all companies face," he said. "It demonstrates that our immigration system is severely broken and needs to be fixed immediately."

Like other Trump workers who have lost their jobs, Mr Quintero said he presented a fake green card when he was hired at the golf course by its previous owners. He said he used the same false papers to continue working there after Mr Trump acquired the property in 2009. When Mr Quintero got the offer in 2016 to tend to the brothers' hunting retreat, he said, no one asked about his legal status.

Having lost both jobs, Mr Quintero now fears being deported and separated from his wife and four US-born sons.

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His attorney, Anibal Romero, who represents dozens of immigrants fired from Trump properties, said Mr Quintero is among several clients who have been interviewed by the New York state attorney general's office in recent weeks.

Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, has not announced a formal investigation of the Trumps' hiring practices. A spokeswoman for Ms James declined to comment.

Mr Romero said his clients are cooperating with authorities and should be shielded from deportation. "They are material witnesses to federal and state crimes, and any attempt to remove them from the United States should be considered obstruction of justice," he said.

Mr Quintero said he wanted to speak publicly because he has been stung by the president's disparaging words about Hispanic migrants.

"I want them to recognise the good that we do," Mr Quintero said. "Eighteen years of working (at the golf club) should shed a light that we are not the people that he says we are: bad, rapist, drug dealers, the worst that they say that we are."

Proud to work for Trump

Mr Quintero's journey to the Trump golf club and the Trump brothers' hunting retreat began in Valle de Chalco, a working-class suburb of Mexico City. As a teenager, he said, he crossed the border in Tijuana, then made his way to New York, where his father was living.

Mr Quintero said he sold flowers without a permit on the sidewalks of Chinatown, dodging police who would confiscate his merchandise on occasion. He eventually moved to Poughkeepsie, where his uncle lived, and worked at a furniture factory. Then, through a family friend, Mr Quintero said, he found a job watering the grass at the Branton Woods Golf Club, about 60 miles north of Manhattan.

He completed paperwork with a fake green card in his name. "They never told me anything about whether they were good or not," he said of his bosses.

When Mr Trump bought the golf course in 2009, he changed its name to Trump National Golf Club Hudson Valley. Mr Quintero said he showed his new managers the same fake documents he'd used before. Golf club officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr Trump increased his salary - first by a dollar, to $15 an hour, and eventually to the $18.75 rate he was earning at the time he lost his job, Mr Quintero said.

Mr Quintero, who specialised in spraying herbicides and other chemicals on the course, said he was proud to work for such a famous man.

Once, when Mr Trump was playing at the course, Mr Quintero remembers sitting on a tractor by the 14th hole. Mr Trump shook his hand and asked Mr Quintero how long he'd worked there, he recalled. Mr Trump tipped him $50 and told him to buy his wife a nice lunch. They bought beer instead and had a backyard cookout.

"He's not bad," Mr Quintero recalled thinking of Mr Trump. "To give us a job and not check papers."

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In 2016, Mr Quintero said, one of his bosses at the golf club offered him a second job at the shooting range that belonged to the president's sons. They were looking for someone to clear brush, mow the grass and maintain the off-road vehicles in the garage.

The Trump brothers and at least three partners had bought the Leather Hill estate - a house, some fields and a wooded hillside - for $665,000 in 2013, public records show. The property abuts the crumbling campus of a former state psychiatric hospital. Mr Trump does not appear to have any ownership of the property.

Leather Hill's previous owners had raised free-range chickens and sold produce at the Union Square farmers market in Manhattan, neighbour Elisabetta Berghold said.

The forest near the house had an easement where a utility line once cut through, leaving a long, straight slash through the trees. It was an ideal spot for target practice, with a tower from which the brothers could fire the kind of rifles used for trophy and big-game hunting.

"One of the fields has a 500-yard range thanks to Eric Trump, who put it together," wrote Peter Horn, one of the owners of the property, who described it in his memoir, Hunting Across the Danube. Mr Horn declined to comment.

Last year, several neighbours began complaining publicly that loud booms of gunfire on the weekends rattled their windows and frightened their pets.

"Every neighbour I've talked to is against" the shooting range, said Mike Dougherty, who lives about half a mile away. "You're sitting outside and enjoying a lunch, and suddenly you hear an explosion. You can't relax. It's very unsettling."

Central American migrants are rescued by members of the Beta group of the National Mexican Institute of Migrationas they try to cross the Rio Bravo in Coahuila state, Mexico, on February 15, 2019. (Julio Cesar AGUILAR / AFP)

'I need my papers'

For Mr Quintero, who was usually there alone during the week, the shooting range was a peaceful, somewhat solitary place and a welcome source of extra income. He liked the responsibility of working for the president's family and learning new skills. He said he would watch online videos about growing crops and attracting deer.

"It was the first time I was responsible for an estate or property like this," Mr Quintero said. "It felt like a new challenge in life."

When he was hired, Mr Quintero was required to sign a contract stating that he "will not disclose to anyone, and always keep secret" any details about the property and its owners, according to a copy he showed The Post. The contract stated that he would be paid on a "Project by Project basis" and would be responsible for paying all taxes.

Mr Quintero was not asked to fill out a form attesting to his employment eligibility, his attorney said.

Mr Quintero was paid $1,000 a month for working up to 25 hours per week, according to a copy of a paycheck he provided to The Post.

He said he usually communicated via group text with Eric Trump and Mr Ferraro, who was listed in Mr Quintero's phone contacts as "Boss Montana."

They talked about repairs and planting schedules; at one point, Mr Quintero was instructed to install a hose in a chicken coop where the owners field-dressed dead deer. He alerted them in August when a small snake slipped into the house.

Although the work was spooky at times, alone in the woods, he considered it "an honour."

"One feels happy to say, 'Oh, wow, I am working for the president's son, on his property,' " he said.

Mr Quintero said that his job didn't change when Mr Trump was elected president, but that the security did. At one point in early 2017, he said, Mr Ferraro called him to the property - and Secret Service agents stopped him at the gate.

"That day to me was shocking," Mr Quintero said. "I did not expect to find the Secret Service or Eric when I arrived. My reaction was, 'Wow, he is here,'" referring to the president's son.

The meeting was to discuss Mr Quintero's maintenance duties on the property. When he sat down, he recalled that Eric Trump asked him if he needed anything.

"The thought hit me that yes, I need my papers," Mr Quintero recalled. "Right now, that's the only thing I need."

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But Mr Quintero said his immigration status was not discussed during that 15 to 20-minute encounter.

However, the subject came up several months later. In mid-2017, Mr Quintero said, Mr Ferraro sent him a message asking for his Social Security number because he wanted to get him a debit card to buy supplies for the property.

Mr Quintero never responded. Panicked, he said he turned to the closest neighbour to Leather Hill, a man named Thomas Sartoris, who was friendly with Mr Ferraro and the Trumps.

"He always helped me whenever I had a problem," Mr Quintero said.

Mr Quintero said Mr Sartoris urged him to be honest.

"Tell him you don't have a Social. Even better, tell him to help fix your papers," Mr Quintero recalled Mr Sartoris saying. "You work for the son of the president, you work for the president. How many years have you worked for them? Let them help you."

A few weeks later, Mr Quintero found a debit card left for him in a garage on the property where he collected his paychecks and left his receipts. The card, a photo of which was viewed by The Post, was under the name Jason Decker, Leather Hill Preserve, and issued by TD Bank, where Mr Ferraro works as a financial adviser.

Mr Quintero said that Mr Sartoris told him that he had passed along Mr Quintero's concerns about having a fake Social Security number to Mr Ferraro.

Mr Sartoris told The Post that he knew Mr Quintero but declined to comment further. Mr Ferraro did not return repeated requests for comment.

Mr Quintero said he never spoke about the issue with Mr Ferraro or the Trumps.

Mr Decker is one of the owners of the hunting property, according to another owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the group's private dealings.

Mr Quintero said he had never heard of Mr Decker. The Post could not reach Mr Decker to confirm his connection to Leather Hill.

Mr Quintero said he used the card in Mr Decker's name regularly, making purchases of up to $1,900 at a time for repairs and supplies such as seed and fertilizer.

In January, Mr Quintero said he was called to a meeting with a human resources executive at the Hudson Valley golf course, who told him that his papers were not genuine and that he needed to submit real documents.

Mr Quintero said he never went back - and assumed that meant he also had lost his job at the hunting retreat. He did not return to the property and said he has not heard from Eric Trump. He said Mr Ferraro called once last month, after enquiries from The Post, but Mr Quintero did not call him back.

'Are they are going to deport you?'

US labour laws require employers to verify an employee's eligibility to work, and companies can face civil and criminal penalties for hiring workers who aren't allowed to work in the country.

Employers generally do not have to file a form used to verify identity and work authorisation for independent contractors or those who do "casual domestic services," according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Federal law still prohibits people from knowingly hiring a person not authorised to work in the United States as a contractor.

Mr Romero said Mr Quintero's relationship with Leather Hill's owners was in effect that of an employee, not a contractor. Unlike a typical contractor - such as a house painter or a handyman working a short-term job - Mr Quintero did not bring his own tools or supplies. He worked a regular schedule - up to 25 hours per week. And contractors typically aren't provided with a debit card for expenses, Mr Romero said.

"You can put many things on paper, but if the reality of the facts are not a reflection of what actually happens, then that's what matters in court," he said.

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Mr Quintero now worries about how to find a new job and support his family. He could apply at other golf courses in the Hudson Valley area, but he said he doesn't think they would be willing to hire someone without real documents.

"I am the backbone of the house - what am I going to do now?" Mr Quintero said. "One feels worst when you have kids and a family, and you're the only provider. The kids ask me: 'What are you doing here, Daddy? You did not go to work?' "

"It hurts to tell them, 'Well, I don't have this paper, I don't have papers,' " he added.

He said his oldest son now knows what that means, asking, "Are they are going to deport you?"

Mr Quintero said he cannot imagine relocating his American children to Mexico.

"I believe they belong here," he said. "What happened to me is a part of life for not having the right papers."

The Washington Post

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