When Mauricio paid a smuggler to sneak him over the border of Mexico, he knew hed live a quiet life in America.
He didnt know he would be invisible.
Mauricio, 27, is part of North Carolinas underground economy. He is one of thousands of workers here illegally who find jobs with employers who cut corners by avoiding payment of taxes, insurance and overtime.
When you need money, you dont ask questions, said Mauricio, who is being only partly identified because of his immigration status.
North Carolina has grown, in part, on his back. Mauricios fingerprints are all over some of the most prominent and celebrated structures from the Triangle to the coast: Kenan Stadium, PNC Arena, Carter-Finley Stadium. He can rattle through a list of schools and dormitories and office buildings he has helped build.
For most of those projects, Mauricio worked for Martins Bricklaying, a masonry company formed nine years ago as the building industry grew quickly in North Carolina. During at least some of that time, owner Sabas Martin Galeana has violated several state and federal laws, failing to withhold taxes and provide workers with the forms they need to settle their own obligations.
The News & Observer reviewed Mauricios pay stubs from the spring of 2012. The N&O talked to other former and current employees of Martins Bricklaying and reviewed more pay stubs, including some submitted as part of a pending workers compensation claim. Three times, Martin has violated state or federal requirements to pay unemployment insurance on his workers; he settled the last of three liens in 2009. All told, he owed more than $70,600 in taxes and penalties.
Martins business practices have gone largely undetected. He has prospered, living in a spacious Nash County home. Martin did not respond to several interview requests.
Business owners, state officials and policy advocates say businesses such as Martins have gained an edge by breaking the law.
Though undocumented workers cant collect benefits such as Social Security or unemployment, employers are required to pay those taxes on their behalf. Because many of the workers wrongly classified or paid off the books are in the country illegally, normal triggers used to detect those who dont pay taxes often fail.
I may as well not even exist as far as they know, Mauricio said.
In America seeking work
Mauricio was just a scrawny teenager when he came to America for a job with a steady paycheck that could help support his family.
Mauricio followed leads all the way to North Carolina, touted as a promised land: more jobs than the workforce could handle with few questions asked. He settled into a trailer with 15 other laborers and slept when a bed was available.
He soon found work as an assistant on a masonry crew. He learned quickly, and, in just a few years, became a full mason. Mauricio began to lay down roots and imagine a lifetime in America.
Around 2003, he said, he was working for Joyner Masonry Works, a Greenville firm. Near the end of the project, one of the supervisors pulled him aside and said they had no more work for him.
Gary Joyner, president of Joyner Masonry, could not be reached for comment.
The workers with a permit to work in the U.S. kept their jobs with Joyner, Mauricio said. Those without work permits were told to go see Martin, a fellow Mexican who was starting a masonry firm.
Wheres the W-2?
Mauricio feels like a ghost when he works for Martins Bricklaying. He said he has never provided any identification to Martin nor filled out an employment application.
He doesnt even know my address, Mauricio said. Hes never asked.
Mauricio simply signed his name on a sheet of paper at the beginning and end of each shift with Martins; thats how hours were tracked.
Once, his last name was spelled incorrectly on his paycheck. The clerk at a grocery story near his home cashed it anyway.
Mauricio is married to an American; the couple had a daughter two years ago. He desperately wants to become a citizen.
A lawyer told him to hope the laws change to allow more leniency for workers who came here illegally. His advice for the interim: Obey the law and pay taxes.
Mauricio met with an accountant to try to figure out how to pay taxes for work done with Martin, he said. The accountant told him that he needed a W-2 or 1099 form.
Mauricio said he called Martins Bricklaying to ask for one but was told nothing like that existed for him.
The job at Kenan Stadium
Mauricio would rather work for a company that withholds taxes, but such jobs have been hard to win since 2010.
Each time hes laid off from one of his preferred companies, Mauricio calls Martins Bricklaying to ask for work.
His plea is always met with a yes.
Martins company does steady business. Right now, the company is building a school north of Raleigh as well as a childrens hospital expansion at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, which is affiliated with East Carolina University.
Over the winter of 2010, Mauricio worked for Martins Bricklaying on the $70 million renovation of UNC-Chapel Hills Kenan Stadium. Mauricio says he worked 13-hour days, seven days a week to keep the project on schedule. After two months, he felt like a stranger to his infant daughter.
The Educational Foundation, also known as the Rams Club, funded the project and hired general contractor T.A. Loving to manage it and vet the subcontractors. John Montgomery, executive director of the foundation, said that Martins employees didnt work directly for the foundation and that it had no way of knowing of any problems.
We dont have anything to say one way or another, Montgomery said.
Mauricio shakes his head when asked whether he had ever thought of reporting Martins business methods to state officials.
I dont want to have no problems, he said. When theres nothing else out there, you have to keep food on the table and your head down.
Staff writer Chris Kudialis contributed.