Construction worker dies at Robbinsville, NJ temple raided by FBI, cops say
ROBBINSVILLE — A construction worker has died at a Hindu temple that was raided by the FBI last year and accused in a lawsuit of human trafficking and labor violations.
The 57-year-old man from Hillside was dead when first responders arrived at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir shortly before 4 p.m. on Friday, according to Robbinsville police. An investigation found that a construction accident had occurred at the rear of the property where curbing was being installed.
Police were withholding the victim's identity until they notified his next of kin.
BAPS North America told New Jersey 101.5 in a statement that it would fully cooperate with law enforcement.
"BAPS extends its deepest sympathies to the employees of Flats and Curbs, a subcontractor on site, and in particular to the family on the loss of their loved one. Worker safety is a priority for BAPS, and we pledge our full cooperation with law enforcement as they investigate the accident."
An OSHA spokesperson confirmed to New Jersey 101.5 on Monday that the death is under investigation.
BAPS temple accused of labor violaitons
The ornate temple and surrounding property on North Main Street were at the center of a lawsuit and FBI search last year. At the time, the FBI told New Jersey 101.5 that federal agents were there for "court authorized law enforcement activity."
The same morning as the search on May 11, 2021, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of 200 Indian nationals accusing BAPS of luring them to work 12-hour days for $1.20 an hour.
The lawsuit stated that the workers were promised they would be doing light carving work. Instead, they were made to cut and lay stone, dip stones in chemicals, do road work, and do other intense and dangerous tasks.
Daniel Werner, an attorney representing the workers, called it "a horrific case of worker exploitation."
"These workers were coerced through lies to come to the United States to work and then suffered tremendously – they were basically forced into servitude," Werner said.
The state Department of Labor issued a company-wide stop-work order against Cunha’s Construction Inc. in April 2021, less than two weeks before the FBI raid. At the time, the company was working at BAPS temples in Robbinsville and Edison.
It was the first time the state paused all work for an entire company instead of on a per-project basis, the DOL said in a statement. The DOL accused the construction company of "repeated and ongoing violations of state wage and hour laws."
Includes prior reporting from Dan Alexander.