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A Chinese Casino Has Conquered a Piece of America

...At a…Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd...construction site [on the American island of Saipan], it was building a gargantuan casino with a crew of hundreds of Chinese, scores of them working illegally on tourist visas. So many laborers were getting hurt that [Doctor] Rohringer’s colleagues began keeping an unofficial spreadsheet, separate from standard hospital record...The dead man Rohringer saw…was a builder…plummeted from a scaffold. His colleagues hadn’t called 911; instead, they’d pulled the work clothes off his broken body in a clumsy attempt to obscure his identity…

…Imperial Pacific has made millions of dollars in payments to family members of the territory’s governor, Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres…In a written response to questions from Bloomberg Businessweek, Imperial Pacific said it has “strived and [is] committed to comply with local and federal laws” and that it “categorically denies” impropriety in its dealings with the government. Torres’s office said that all changes to laws or policies were undertaken “with the intent of achieving economic growth within the boundaries of the law.”...

Last May, after Imperial Pacific requested permission for its “soft opening,” a special body appointed to supervise the development delivered a scathing private report to Governor Torres. According to a person who saw the document, it warned about metal debris scattered on the casino roof, which could turn into deadly projectiles in one of the typhoons that regularly batter the island; structural steel that appeared to be missing bolts; and columns with kinks that could indicate a risk of catastrophic collapse. The report urged Torres to keep the public out until Imperial Pacific could guarantee safety. But the governor rejected the advice, according to the person familiar with the report. The government later removed the supervisory body’s oversight. (The governor’s office told Bloomberg Businessweek it was assured by engineers the site was safe; Imperial Pacific said it complied with all building regulations.)

...[F]ederal prosecutors acting on FBI investigations charged several employees of the contracting companies building the casino with immigration violations; some pleaded guilty. Separately, a U.S. Department of Labor inspector said in a court declaration that the rate of injuries on the site “greatly exceeds the national average.” The inspector described one worker arriving at the ER with a broken back and a doctor advising immediate hospitalization. But someone intervened. “The injured person was not allowed to be admitted, and was promptly transported” to China.

Imperial Pacific has said that it had no knowledge of safety violations or workers being employed illegally and that both were the responsibility of its contractors. But these claims don’t withstand much scrutiny. The contractors’ office was rented by Imperial Pacific and, according to a former employee who worked there, shared with its staff. Additionally, a safety expert who worked on the construction site told me that Imperial Pacific was deeply involved with selecting and supervising contractors.

The expert described the job as one of the most challenging of his career, with widespread dangers. Generators weren’t properly grounded, workers were missing basic equipment such as safety glasses and correct footwear, and welders lacked anything like the necessary training to handle torches. Once, he said, he was forced to compress a three-hour safety briefing into one hour. His job included ensuring compliance with U.S. regulations, and he said Imperial Pacific ignored three written pleas to stop work. (The company disputed this.) Eventually he quit.

Imperial Pacific has said it’s now confident that construction workers are legally employed and that its site is complying with safety rules. Yet gruesome injuries continued after the FBI action. In late September a worker received a severe electric shock, almost losing a limb. A video of the aftermath shows him writhing on the ground next to the casino, screaming. Although most of the undocumented workers were flown home after the FBI arrests, a group of about 35 initially refused to leave, saying they hadn’t been paid as promised…

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