Tianming Wong was working on casino construction on the island of Saipan in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands when a sudden explosion engulfed his left leg in flames.
But rather than rush him to the hospital, Wong says his employer — Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC, a subsidiary of Gold Mantis China — refused to take him to the emergency room.
Gold Mantis officials allegedly told Wong that he could be arrested if he went to the hospital because he was in Saipan illegally.
Wong is now one of seven workers suing Gold Mantis for damages associated with injuries obtained on the job. Wong is permanently disfigured and suffers from chronic pain, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court on Saipan. The other plaintiffs describe similar stories.
An unfinished casino-hotel sits in the midst of Saipan’s tourism district. This photo was taken in August 2016, but the building is still under construction.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The case is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga revolving around Chinese company Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd. and its lucrative casino in the U.S. commonwealth. The Northern Mariana Islands are part of the same island chain as Guam, and are about a three-hour flight from Tokyo.
Some locals on Saipan have embraced the casino as a much-needed economic stimulus buoying the commonwealth’s oft-beleaguered tourism industry. But questionable labor practices and eyebrow-raising cash flows have prompted a slew of federal investigations and some fines.
“Per capita, there’s almost certainly more Chinese money moving through Saipan than anywhere else in the world,” Bloomberg reported. “The unprecedented flow of capital has allowed Imperial Pacific to operate in ways that would be unthinkable within the 50 states.”
The story noted the casino managed to flout or change laws and has paid millions to the relatives of the commonwealth’s Gov. Ralph Torres. As another sign of the company’s connections, Imperial Pacific’s executive director is Mark Brown, who previously led President Donald Trump’s casinos in Atlantic City.
Much of the news media coverage of the casino has focused on how many workers had tourist visas, not work permits, and many workers said they were forced to pay fees to get to Saipan and were left stranded without pay.
A U.S. Department of Labor investigation found that Gold Mantis paid workers less than the minimum wage. In a settlement, the casino’s construction contractors — including Gold Mantis — agreed in March to pay nearly $14 million in back wages to workers.
But missing wages weren’t the only problem.
The lawsuit describes how in 2016, a Saipan physician gave the Occupational Safety and Health Administration a spreadsheet of about 80 injuries sustained by casino construction workers, who were getting hurt far more frequently than the national average.
“There has been significant publicity surrounding the illegally low wages paid by Gold Mantis and other contractors to their Chinese employees in Saipan as well as the U.S. Department of Labor’s settlements recovering that money,” wrote Aaron Halegua, a New York-based labor attorney who is assisting the plaintiffs’ Saipan attorney, in an email.
“However, far less attention has been paid to the severe physical injuries suffered by many of those workers and the fact that many never received a penny of compensation. This lawsuit seeks to address that issue, at least for the seven workers involved.”
An attorney for Gold Mantis on Saipan did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
A note to our readers . . .
There are upsides to being a nonprofit as we carry out our public-service mission. We don’t have a paywall on our site, charge a subscription fee, or clutter our articles with ads. But this also means that reader support sustains every aspect of what we do. Without you, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that. By donating, you’re supporting everyone on staff—and allowing quality journalism to thrive. If you value our work, will you make a tax-deductible donation today?