Lawsuit alleges Greece supervisor used town employee as unpaid hot rod mechanic
A former Greece official is suing the town and its top leadership for more than $5 million, alleging that he was forced to do unpaid labor for Supervisor Bill Reilich’s side business refurbishing and selling classic cars.
Robert “Bobby” Johnson was the deputy commissioner of public works for Greece from 2006 until he retired in 2022. In his complaint, he alleges that from 2014 — the year Reilich took office — through 2022, Reilich required him to work at Reilich’s so-called “Hot Rod Ranch” on Swamp Road in Sweden, which is marked by a wooden fence bearing a steel cutout of a pompadoured man in a Mustang with a Betty Boop-esque woman on the hood.
Johnson typically worked on weekends, according to the complaint, and his duties included everything from repairs on cars to picking up vehicles in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Among the vehicles he allegedly worked on were a 1955 Chevy, a 1947 Ford and a replica of the Batmobile that Reilich owned.
“During that time, Bill Reilich and Greece failed to pay Bobby Johnson the statutory amount of the required minimum wage,” the lawsuit complaint reads. “During that time, neither Greece nor Bill Reilich paid Bobby Johnson an overtime wage for the hours he was required to work at the Ranch in addition to the hours prescribed by Greece.”
Johnson claims that it was understood that if he did not work at the Hot Rod Ranch, he would be fired from the town of Greece.
Through a staffer, Reilich declined to respond to the allegations in the lawsuit and the town does not ever comment on pending litigation.
Reilich, a former state Assemblymember, is a noted gearhead. During his time in the Assembly, he served as chair of the national State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus. In 2011, he introduced a bill to exempt hot rods from certain equipment and emission requirements, but it was never brought to the floor for a vote.
The complaint claims that at one point in 2016, Johnson informed Reilich that he could no longer work Saturdays due to his children's sports schedule. Reilich allegedly developed a scheme to get Johnson to work instead on Fridays when he would normally be on the clock for the town. The complaint says Johnson was required to forfeit a full day’s worth of paid time off and instead work at the Ranch.
Johnson is represented by attorney Maureen Bass of Abrams Fensterman LLP.
“A lot of people knew it was happening, a lot of people in Greece,” Bass said. “The more the onion unpeels, the more it appears a lot of people knew it was happening. But to somebody who didn’t know what was happening, he just looked like that guy who took Fridays off for PTO time.”
The complaint also claims that Johnson sometimes accrued up to 70 hours of unpaid labor a week, and that the work extended beyond duties at the Hot Rod Ranch. It alleges that Reilich, along with Deputy Town Supervisor Michelle Marini and members of the local Republican committee, used Johnson as a personal handyman.
The complaint says Johnson installed Ring cameras at Marini’s house, maintained Reilich’s driveway at his house, and worked on behalf of Reilich’s re-election campaign, among other tasks.
When Johnson complained about these unpaid assignments and asked Commissioner of Public Works Kirk Morris for support, he was retaliated against by being “reassigned” and stripped of his supervisory roles, the complaint alleges.
“When Bobby Johnson asked Kirk Morris why he was being punished, Kirk Morris responded that, ‘Michelle wanted you to feel the pinch,’” the complaint reads.
Morris also allegedly told Johnson he should “consider himself lucky” for being included in Reilich’s inner circle, according to the complaint.
In early 2022, Johnson again complained about the duties given to him. The complaint alleges Marini told him, “If you are working for Bill, then you are working for the town (Greece).”
Johnson resigned following an April 2022 meeting with Reilich at the Eagle Family Restaurant on Lake Road, the complaint says. Six months prior, Greece Police Chief Drew Forsyth was driving drunk when he crashed his department-issued vehicle, after which he drove approximately six miles on three tires to Greece Police Department headquarters. The incident led to his resignation and spawned an investigation by the District Attorney’s office.
On the possibility Johnson would be interviewed, Reilich allegedly told him that he “had a bad dream” that he would tell investigators about his unpaid gig with the Ranch, according to the complaint. The lawsuit claims Reilich told Johnson to lie if asked about ever working at the ranch.
“Bill Reilich told Bobby Johnson that he needed to protect his and Michelle Marini’s, ‘integrity,’” the lawsuit complaint reads.
In total, the lawsuit makes 17 different claims against the town, Reilich, Marini, and various other key officials. Among them are unjust enrichment by Reilich and Marini, retaliation for reporting labor law violations, pain and suffering, and failure to pay wages.
Johnson seeks $5.5 million in compensation and reinstatement of health benefits that he lost upon taking early retirement.
“How does this happen in a world where so many people are aware of what’s happening and nobody steps in and says, ‘That’s not right, you can’t do that, what’re you doing’?” Bass said. “You can say it any way you want to, but if there’s smoke, there’s fire, and if this is what they’re doing to one guy, what else are they doing out there?”