More than 50 security guards hired to protect asylum seekers bused upstate from New York City by a troubled migrant contractor are working without proper authorization, a New York Department of State investigation found.
The department on Friday notified the two security companies that hired the guards — Trace Assets Protection Service L.L.C. and Wawanda Investigations and Security Company L.L.C. — that they had two business days to respond or face possible suspension or revocation of their licenses to conduct business in New York, according to letters obtained by The New York Times.
Whitney A. Clark, Deputy Secretary of State for Business Development, said in her letters to the security companies that it had preliminarily concluded that 52 guards — 16 in Erie County and 36 in Albany County — lacked proper authorization and were in violation of state law. In some cases, it was not even clear if the guards were employees of the two security firms.
“Please take notice that the continued employment of the above individuals, unless properly registered with the Department, is a continued and willful violation of law,” Ms. Clark wrote.
The two companies were subcontractors hired by DocGo, a medical services company that was awarded a $432 million, no-bid contract by New York City to help manage an influx of tens of thousands of asylum seekers.
The company’s work with migrants has been under scrutiny since The New York Times reported on its treatment of migrants: Some asylum seekers said they were given bogus work authorization papers, were told they’d get legal help that never materialized and faced repeated threats, including from security guards, at hotels that more resembled halfway houses than residences.
Police in the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga have investigated the company for possibly interfering with a criminal investigation of two sexual assaults at hotels where migrants are staying. The Cheektowaga police chief, Brian Gould, said on Friday that he had passed the investigation onto state authorities.
As the complaints piled up, the office of Attorney General Letitia James announced less than two weeks ago that it was investigating DocGo for a series of possible violations of state or federal laws over the treatment of people in its care.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has also vowed to review DocGo’s performance in the wake of complaints about its performance, which prompted the Department of State’s probe of the security companies.
“To protect the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers, Governor Hochul ordered a state review of DocGo’s contract to provide services to asylum seekers,” said Avi Small, a spokesman for Ms. Hochul. “That review is ongoing.”
Trace Assets Protection Service did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Daniel Wright, president of Wawanda Investigations, said he had not seen the Department of State’s letter and was not involved in day-to-day operations, but he told The Times his company adhered to “the letter of the law.”
“Wawanda is a straight-up company,” Mr. Wright said. “We comply with all the required papers for our company.”
In a statement released by a company spokesman, DocGo said that it launched an investigation after receiving the letter from the state on Friday. It said “no personnel who are not registered with the state have been deployed to work at our sites” since it received the letter. DocGo said it required subcontractors to maintain “appropriate credentials,” and vowed to replace any security companies found to be in violation of the law.
DocGo’s lucrative contract for help in sheltering and providing other services to homeless migrants raised eyebrows.
Until last year, the company had mostly focused on providing Covid tests and vaccinations under contracts with the city and its public hospital system. Its new responsibilities included overseeing intakes at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, the city’s main arrival center; helping provide housing for migrants; busing some upstate; and helping them settle into their new lives.
Instead, some migrants said they were deceived and threatened.
In late July, The Times reported that a security guard working in Albany for Wawanda threatened migrants staying at the Ramada Plaza.
The guard told his supervisor he was going to “beat the [expletive] out” of a Venezuelan migrant and would put him “to sleep.” After The Times reported on the incident, DocGo said that the guard was no longer working at the hotel and that the company was evaluating new security vendors for its sites upstate.
The company is now seeking to land a federal contract worth billions of dollars, the company’s chief executive officer, Anthony Capone, recently acknowledged.
During an Aug. 9 interview at the Canaccord Genuity Growth Conference, a gathering of institutional investors, Mr. Capone said DocGo pursued its migrant services contract with the city “in large part because it gave us all of the credibility to win the Border Patrol” contract, which he described as a five-year deal to provide medical services to migrants.