August 10, 2017
Customers of four California Chinese restaurants might have noticed a change in ownership and management at the locations during the spring of 2017 after the former owners and managers were arrested for wage theft and tax evasion totaling $6.5 million. The arrests also uncovered stories of immigrant workers who were housed in cramped conditions and forced to work 72 hours per week for low wages.
The workers at Golden Dragon Buffet (Brentwood), Golden Wok Buffet (Roseville), New Dragon Buffet (San Leandro), and Kokyo Sushi Buffet (Hayward) were housed by the company owners in garages and small houses throughout the area. Workers were forced to live in these cramped conditions where 14 or more people at a time occupied a single building. Some of them also indicated that they were separated based on race. Most of the workers were recruited through an employment agency that specializes in finding work for undocumented workers, but authorities did not indicate whether or not charges would be brought against that company. The workers were transported to and from each restaurant to work 12-hour shifts, six days a week for wages often lower than $6 per hour.
When the former managers and owners learned that some workers were talking to California labor authorities, they attempted to intimidate the workers. Some workers were kicked out of the facility where they were living, and workers alleged that the owners routinely threatened to call immigration officials to report their illegal status. However, the workers decided to testify, and the operation was shut down and ultimately sold to new owners.
Investigators estimate that the string of restaurants stole $4.5 million in wages from its workers from 2009 to 2013 and neglected to pay $2 million in taxes on those wages over the same period. Authorities were able to charge eight of the company’s owners with wage theft, but three managed to evade arrest by escaping the country. Authorities indicate that they believe the three wanted criminals are hiding in China, which could make prosecution difficult.
If you believe that your employer broke federal or state labor laws regarding pay, hours or any related matters, call our Orange County law office today.