Miss. companies deny mistreating foreign workers

A federal lawsuit that claims two Mississippi companies lured foreign workers to the United States with false promises of good jobs then forced them to live in storage buildings is “unfounded and false,” a company president said.

Twelve Brazilians are suing Moss Point-based Knights Marine and Industrial Inc., and its subsidiary, Five Star Contractors LLC, alleging racketeering, breach of contract and fraud.

The workers, who came to the United States on temporary work visas, allege they spent thousands of dollars to come to Mississippi, but the high-paying jobs they were promised didn’t materialize. The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Gulfport, seeks class status to cover as many as 650 foreign laborers sponsored by the companies from 2006 to 2007.

Knight also said his companies “conduct business in an ethical and legal manner” and emphatically denied a worker’s claim they lived in “storage containers.”

Knight said the workers were housed in 12-foot by 20-foot buildings with insulation, carpeting, air conditioning, a refrigerator, bunk beds and shelves. He also said the housing was approved by local and federal officials and the workers saw pictures of the small metal buildings before coming to the United States.

His attorney, David Baria of Bay St. Louis, said the companies provided common areas with gas grills and a soccer field and were instrumental in getting a local church to start English lessons and services for Hispanics.

“I’m not sure why somebody would make something up like they did in this case,” Baria said.