A Diamond District bling king paid a worker a measly $15 a day in cash — while withholding an additional $30 a day in rent money for a bare-bones apartment — to stand on streetcorners with a sign advertising his store, a lawsuit charges.
Ecuadoran immigrant Alfonso Beckert says that Roni Rubinov, owner of the diamonds-for-cash New Liberty Pawn Shop, paid him an illegal wage of $5 an hour for about nine hours of sign-holding each day.
The boss, who was also Beckert’s landlord, would then withhold most of the money for the windowless basement apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens, where the 65-year-old Beckert lived, according to court papers to be filed this week.
“It was very difficult for me. It caused a lot of stress,” Beckert said in Spanish.
Beckert, who is seeking roughly $100,000 in unpaid wages, claims he worked at least five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Two or three times a month, he would be told to work Saturdays, for which he was never paid, he said.
“I had to ask people to give me a swipe for the train — I had to beg for a coffee, something to eat,” Beckert said. “I just didn’t have enough money.”
He said he had the gig from January 2012 to July 2014.
Rubinov disputed that Beckert was paid below what the law requires. He said the two had a dispute over rent for Beckert’s apartment, which was in a home belonging to Rubinov’s father.
“Nothing is for free,” Rubinov said, recalling his father’s own struggles after immigrating from the Soviet Union.
Beckert said he was fired after he filed a formal complaint with the state Labor Department. Rubinov even locked him out of his apartment, he said.
But a furious Rubinov, who also owns New York Estate Buyers, which buys and sells gold items, said Beckert wasn’t trustworthy.
“The minimum wage is there to protect people from being taken advantage of. If it’s not worth $8.75, you shouldn’t hire him!” Beckert’s attorney Jonathan Schulman says, referring to the current statewide hourly minimum.
Beckert now lives with a brother-in-law in Ozone Park, Queens. He holds a sign for a Midtown restaurant that pays him $9.75 an hour.