In Sinaloa, a new way to negotiate with the program Youth Building the Future has emerged. Some enterprises offer to register candidates in the program in exchange for a percentage of the scholarship or to enroll their employees not to pay them Social Security. However, now a consultancy also found the ‘management’ of grant holders, on behalf of micro-businesses, very lucrative.
After six months from the launch of the Youth Building the Future program, some enterprises in Sinaloa keep doing business with the scholarships amounting to 3,600 Mexican pesos monthly. For instance, they offer to register candidates in the program in exchange for a percentage, or, to evade their responsibilities, they enroll their employees in such a program not to pay the installments of the Social Security. What is more, they manage grantees on behalf of micro-businesses.
The grants, paid with the federal treasury, aim at training young people at work. The consultancy carries out the process on behalf of small businesses owners. For such a service the owners would be charged 7,200 Mexican pesos. However, this is not the consultancy’s main business. Instead, it is the gateway to speculation with the personal data of tens of young people registered on the digital platform of the Ministry of Labor.
According to some complaints, such a consultancy is Contigo Consultores, allegedly linked to the family of the politician Jesús Enrique Ramírez Arredondo. The latter was the chief of the Supply Chains of the Ministry of Economy during the last six-year term.
The consultancy operates with a group of 20 survey takers, who are responsible for offering the service to enter the scholarship program to the small businesses located in the urban neighborhoods. According to the sources consulted, the consultancy itself benefits from that social program, then the young women – the survey takers – are enrolled in the program as well. The promised wage amounts to 1,400 Mexican pesos fortnightly. However, it is the federal government who would be paying that sum.
Contigo Consultores guaranteed micro-entrepreneurs to issue them directly 3,600 Mexican pesos monthly for each registered grantee, with the option to ‘benefit a relative of them with a fixed income and social security throughout a year’ or ‘to rely on a free workforce.’
For each accepted young person, the consultancy gains 7,200 Mexican pesos. According to the informers, Contigo Consultores uploads – on the digital platform of the program – data of businesses and candidates for grantees. However, it associates each one of them with the consultancy’s emails and telephone numbers. This way, it keeps control of the messages received by the grantee holders.
The recruiters registered at least 200 grantees monthly each. The minimum required quota is 10 per week. If this were the case, the consultancy would have gained 2,880,000 Mexican pesos.
The work of the survey takers would have been in force from last April to June. Currently, the hustle in the consultancy’s offices has decreased. This situation was observed by going to the facilities located in Calle Hacienda de la Mora to collect the consultancy’s accounts of the events.
There, the manager Marissa Arredondo was on the defensive and denied providing the required information. She was angrily repeating: ‘my job is confidential, is private. This is my property. I did not authorize you to enter, and I am going to provide you with no information.’
—Are not you going to defend yourself from the accusations of using the federal scholarship for your profit?
—No, because…look, you cannot publish information that you are not sure of…
—You can provide your version of the story if they are defaming you.
—No, I am telling you that it is not true. That is all you can report. Anyone who wants to defame me is free to do it and then face the consequences. Well then, if you do not have an appointment…
Bothered, the woman denies being Marissa Arredondo even though at the beginning she said she was. Then she points out that she is not going to provide any information as her job is confidential. ‘This is my property. I grant you no right to take any photo nor to ask questions. Moreover, you, as a journalist, know what I mean.’
The consultancy’s modus operandi
Last April 9 Contigo Consultores – through a fake profile by the name of Nohemí Camacho – published on an employment webpage on Facebook what follows: ‘I am looking for woman staff aged between 18 and 45 to carry out surveys. Part-time job, Monday to Saturday, $ 1,400 weekly + commissions. *Good communication skills and good work attitude. For further information, call 6675144341. It is not a face to face job.’ [sic.]
Martha – a fictitious name to avoid retaliation – was one of the young women who showed her interest in the job. She phoned the advertised number, but they never picked the call. She tried to contact them through WhatsApp, and she received a confirmation message saying: ‘it consists in fieldwork, carrying out surveys to businesses similar to the census [sic]. The fixed income amounts to 1,400 Mexican pesos per week plus commissions depending on your performance. There are two work shifts available: from eight-thirty to two in the morning and from one-thirty to six in the evening. It is a part-time job. You can choose which shift fits you the most. We require people from any sector since surveys will be conducted in every sector. Hence you will likely work close to your place of residence. However, the interviews will be in the bugambilias neighborhood [sic]’.
Through that same medium, they send her the location and directions to get to the office. Moreover, she set the appointment at 10 am of the following morning. They only asked her what her age was and reminded her to bring her card of the Electoral National Institute. The young woman was surprised that they did not request any job application.
When she presented at the office, they took her a photo and copied her electoral credential. Then they brought her into a room where there were other 19 hired young women. The consultancy told them that they would go out in groups to visit small businesses in different neighborhoods to offer them a program of federal scholarships addressed to young people. They were told that they had to register ten grantees each week and starting from the 11th they would receive 100 Mexican pesos for each.
The group was given a speech (a document one page long) that they had to know off by heart. For 3 hours, the women had been practicing the speech which they were repeating to the business owners.
Martha went out in a group of five. They got on an Uber which brought them to different city’s neighborhood. With a sketch in their hands, they entered stationery shops, butcher’s, grocery stores, beauty parlors, diners, bakeries, mechanics workshops, hardware stores, and laundromats that they found along the way. They were entering the businesses saying: ‘We are from Contigo Consultores and we are here to offer you economical support to help your business thrive. Would you like that your employees’ wage and Social Security did not cost you anything?’
Business owners were told that they would receive 3,600 Mexican pesos for each registered employee, and they could manage it as they wished. Moreover, each one of the employees would benefit from free insurance and, eventually, they could register up to 20 young people to receive a grant from the federal government.
‘Imagine if, besides your employees, you also register one or more relatives of yours or some people who do not regularly work with you but who will help you sometimes. Both you and your employee can benefit from this,’ the survey takers insisted.
‘If you have employees aged between 18 and 29 and you do not provide them with social security – the speech recites – there is when you can enroll them with us. You can register all your employees. However, if you do not have any employee because you are unable to pay them, but you have a grandchild, a son, a relative or a friend who study or work with no insurance, you can register them as an employee of yours. Moreover, if they don’t work for you daily, if they only work for you when you need them, there is no problem. You can register them with us so that you can enjoy a workforce for free. At the same time, you can also benefit a relative who helps you sometimes with a fixed income and social security throughout a year.’
During the speech, the benefits were increasing: ‘We guarantee you that they are going to be accepted in the program. In the unlikely case that they were not, you would not lose anything. Indeed, the service does not cost you anything since it is a government’s subsidy. We are only in charge of its management so that you can obtain it.’
Then they were explaining what follows: ‘Only when you receive the first monthly payment for each employee, you will pay us to cover the costs of management, project creation and enrollment […]. You have to pay so that they can register and enter the files, upload them on the platform, and validate them. Moreover, as I said, you also need to pay us. You keep on receiving the second and third monthly payment. At the fourth month, you should pay us again. You would receive the fourth monthly payment directly, and you should pay us. We could agree whether you transfer us the money, or we come to collect it.’
Afterward, the speech highlights that not to lose the subsidy, each month, they carry out a validation report. Basically, they go to the shop to check whether the grantees attend work and comply with the assigned work shift. Nonetheless, the speech adds an extra benefit: ‘YOU WILL NOT RECEIVE ANY VISIT AS THE CONSULTANCY WILL VALIDATE EVERYTHING.’
The small businesses owners, who agreed to join the program, filled out various forms. The first was a ‘tutor enrollment form’ containing the following data: the name of the person representing the business, Federal Taxpayers Registry (RFC), complete address and activity or business sector, number of employees to register, telephone number, Unique Population Registry Code (CURP) along with a copy of an official identification and a proof of address (of the CFE or Telmex) no more than 3 months old.
They also filled out one (or various) ‘application for registration of grant holders,’ presenting the tutor’s name at the top, followed by information regarding the candidate for the grantee. That is to say, the candidate’s name, level of studies, date of the last year of studies, Unique Population Registry Code (CURP), date of birth, address, telephone number, as well as a copy of both sides of the official identification card.
The paperwork also included two authorization letters. One containing the data and signature of the tutor authorizing ‘C. Marissa Arredondo R. Gte. from Contigo Consultores to request and process, on my behalf, my registration as a tutor as well as to enroll my employees in the Youth Building the Future program, and to manage such registration before the institution granting it [sic].’
The other letter was signed by the ‘employee in training’ authorizing Contigo Consultores ‘to request and process, on my behalf, my registration as an employee in training in the Youth Building the Future program and manage it before the institution granting it.’ It included the same information contained in the ‘application for registration of grantee holders,’ as well as a proof of address and ‘a clear passport-size photo.’
Employers also had to sign ‘a request for Contigo Consultores services and management’ reciting as follows: ‘I commit to the payment of your fees correspondent to one month’s salary, amounting to 3,600 Mexican pesos. Such payment will be realized for each grantee twice, in the first and the fourth month after my grantees and I – as a tutor –will have been accepted, authorized, and received the economic support. Such expenses would be for your management services and procedures [sic]’.
Moreover, the paperwork also included a ‘letter of attorney.’ Through it, the employers give ‘a special, great and sufficient power to Ms. C. Marissa Arredondo,’ so that, on their behalf, she processes the registration as a tutor and the enrollment of their grantees into the program.’
Finally, the survey takers were instructed to take four pictures with their mobile phone: one of the main facade and three of the interiors of each registered business.
Doubts, confusion, and fear
Everything seemed to work smoothly. ‘We met in a facility of the Panamá [restaurant] and they informed us that the program would end on June 22. Nonetheless, they said that if they surpassed the target sought by the government – for instance of 1 thousand employees per month – the program would extend. Moreover, the plan was to send them to Navolato and Cruz de Elota. In that occasion, they congratulated with those businesses registering a higher number of young people: one enrolled 90 in just a week.’
Doubts arose during the first month when one of the young women asked more information about social security to have her sick daughter assisted. They told her that she was insured, but not her sons.
‘That is how we discovered that we had been enrolled as grantees. However, as employees, we have never received the documents of the program. They just asked us the data of our credit card to transfer us the money. The manager Marissa Arredondo warned us that if we renounced, we would lose the subsidy and it was almost impossible to obtain it again,’ relates Martha.
Then they started to discuss with the tutors about the doubts concerning the payments. ‘For instance, there was a business which enrolled seven grant holders. It was a large workshop, and the owner had various young people learning the job. The owner frequently called to get to know what had happened with the procedure. I could notice that in the Excel file, all the young people were approved, but they said that only three were so. It surprised us because they paid us for each approved procedure. They paid the commissions for the seven grant holders to the woman who enrolled them.’
They gave the documents of the three grantees to the workshop owner: a letter from the government of Mexico with the acronym of the Ministry of Labor and Social Prevision and the logo of the Youth Building the Future program.
He has the grantee’s photo, data, and the number of the register, their Social Insurance number, the business’ data, the starting date of the training, and a bank account number. He also has a letter from the bank with the instructions to download the app and register with the provided bank account and their card number. It also has a Telcel SIM card which he should be used to enroll.
A ‘tutor,’ owner of a notions shop, contacted Martha via WhatsApp at the end of March. She informed Martha that she had called the phone number provided by the federal program to get to know if the young man she had enrolled had been accepted. They said he was. They had his name but associated with a different phone number and email.
On May 21, the consultancy sent her a message through WhatsApp saying: ‘Good evening, it’s Alondra R. I am contacting you from Contigo Consultores to inform you that you have received the subsidy from the Youth Building the Future program.
After some days they called her saying that they would call her within three weeks and by that time she, and not the grantee, would receive all the documents. On June 1, the woman asked Martha: ‘Do you know any news regarding the economic support? They said that within three weeks, they would know when it would arrive.’
According to the consulted sources, the management firm, when registering the candidates for grantees on the online platform, introduced their real names. Moreover, it associated each of them with a username and password. However, it substituted their emails and mobile numbers for others under their control. This way, the consultancy could receive the messages directed to the grantees and could directly charge the first month.
The situation got tense. Two women, also business owners, went to the office and threatened to demand the consultancy when they understood that it registered their business under someone else’s names. ‘In the office, they blamed the woman who filled in the forms, and they threatened her that, if they were sued, they would take legal actions against her,’ tells one of the survey takers now jobless. ‘We have never signed any contract, and the truth is that in the office they can manipulate all the paperwork.’
On a Monday morning, the manager of the consultancy, Marissa Arredondo, told them not to show up for work as they were replacing the system equipment. ‘Tomorrow, bring everything in a black bag, the uniform, the badge, and the briefcase containing all the work material,’ she pointed out. On Tuesday, they were fired.
According to the sources, there are at least two offices of Contigo Consultores. One in boulevard Las Torres, in the residential development of Terranova, in the South-West of the city, street number 1726, where they hired the young women and where they received the paperwork for the enrollment. Ten streets further on, at the junction with Calle Hacienda de la Mora, there is the other office where they arranged the meeting with the tutors to seal the deal.
By Judith Valenzuela
(Translated by: Federica Antoniani)