(FOX 2) - A new unit in the state attorney general's office aims to crack down on businesses cheating workers and not paying taxes.
"The guy promised me good wages and steady work so I said - sure - why not," said Nolan Ostrowski.
Ostrowski is a carpenter who answered an ad on Craigslist promising good wages for a construction job in Detroit. He worked hard for two weeks
but when payday rolled around, there was no paycheck.
"It turned out the guy was just fly by night," Ostrowski said. "He didn't want to give me a rate of pay, he did not want to pay me any overtime. Then when it came down to actually getting paid, the guy was gone."
Ostrowski had to sue to get his wages then had to pay his own taxes - adding insult to injury. It happens to millions of Michigan workers adding up to more than $200 million in lost wages each year.
According to the Attorney General Dana Nessel who says shady businesses are also costing the state a $100 million a year in tax revenue by paying workers under the table and not paying taxes.
"These fly by night operators are lying, cheating and stealing from us all," Nessel said.
Nessel is establishing a payroll fraud enforcement unit and Democratic legislators are promising tougher laws to protect those most vulnerable in fields like construction, landscaping, janitorial services, childcare, retail and restaurants.
"I am very passionate about this because I speak from this life," said State Rep. Leslie Love (D - Redford Twp.). "Before becoming a legislator, I was the waitress in the restaurant, I was a seasonal worker and a janitor."
Love and her Democratic colleagues say it's time for the legislature to toughen laws to protect workers and whistleblowers alike.
"Payroll fraud is nonpartisan and it hurts everyone," said Christine Greig, House Democratic leader.
"The first casualties of this criminal act are the workers themselves," said State Sen. Jeremy Moss (D - Oakland County). "More than 20 percent of low wage families live in poverty as a direct result of payroll fraud."
The numbers represent real people in need of real help. People who work hard and should be paid the wages they were promised. People like Ostrowski - who is happy to see the state taking action against employers like the guy who cheated him.
Democratic lawmakers say they're hoping to introduce legislation within the next few weeks - as for that taskforce with the AG's office - they are accepting complaints right now.
Report a case or learn more at Michigan.gov/payrollfraud or by calling (833) 221-1099.