Fail to Pay Wages? Go To Jail

At least that’s what seems to be possible under a new scheme of prosecution begun by the United States Department of Labor, operating under the Fair Labor Standards Act recently while going after the owners of the Wilshire West Car Washes in Los Angeles.

The US DOL went after the owners of the car washes (there are four locations throughout the Los Angeles area) after complaints were received by workers there that they were not being paid properly.  The DOL investigated and determined that the owners of the company, Benny and Nissan Pirian owed employees more than $24,000 under the FLSA guidelines.   The agency then went on to report the pair to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, which filed charges for wage theft and other crimes.

The two owners were accused of paying workers well below the minimum wage for years, with some employees getting $35 to $40 a day and some, working only for tips, receiving no wages at all.  Prosecutors additionally charged the pair with not paying overtime, and even though workers often worked in the hot sun during summer hours, of not allowing them to take meal or rest breaks.  They were also charges with not providing safe drinking water, safety gear or uniforms, instead making employees use their already meager pay to buy bottled water and company t-shirts.

During the investigation by the City Attorney’s Office Benny and Nissan were accused of threatening employees, sometimes with physical violence, if they participated in the investigation or provided information of wrongdoing on their part.  Protective orders were issued by the court, ordering the two not to interfere with any sort of investigation in the future.

Ultimately, the case did not proceed to trial, but was settled with a plea agreement.  The Pirians pled no contest to six criminal counts, including conspiracy, grand theft, and several labor code violations. They were ordered to spend 365 days in jail and were placed on 4 years of probation.  In addition, they were ordered to pay restitution in the amount of nearly $1.25 million dollars.

They were also ordered not to interfere with agency investigations during the period of their probation, and to allow their employees to engage in union forming activity, should they so desire.  To ensure future compliance with the law, during the four year term of their probation, each of the car wash locations must keep their payroll and health and safety records open for inspection at any time by the City Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation, the US Department of Labor, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Employment law insiders are unsure whether this is a new tactic by the Department of Labor, to refer cases to local prosecuting agencies for criminal prosecution, or if the facts of this particular case were so egregious that they simply felt it was warranted in this case.  Either way, it is clear that employers and business owners need to be careful when bilking their employees out of hard earned wages, or they could find themselves sharing jail cells with the Pirians.

If you feel that you have been the victim of a wage and hour violation, or have been denied meal or rest breaks, contact the offices of Stephen Danz & Associates at (877) 789-9707 or use the Contact Form on our website to schedule a free consultation today.  Stephen has over three decades of experience protecting the rights of workers in California and around the globe.

We look forward to defending your rights.