SOUTH LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Two people who owned garment industry businesses in South Los Angeles between 2017 and 2022 were charged Wednesday in connection with an alleged wage theft case filed by a new unit that will specialize in focusing on businesses in which workers are being underpaid, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced.
Soon Ae Park, 64, and Lawrence Gi Lee, 68, had previously agreed in 2018 to pay settlements to former workers for underpaying them, according to the District Attorney's Office.
Park -- who owned a sewing contracting business named HTA Fashion that performed most of the sewing for Lee's business -- is charged with two felony counts of grand theft of wages from two employees exceeding $950 and one count each of perjury by declaration and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument.
Lee -- who owned a garment manufacturing business named Parbe Inc. -- is charged with three counts of perjury by declaration.
Prosecutors allege that Park and Lee perjured themselves in their Garment Manufacturers and Contractors Registration applications by stating that they had not been cited for or settled a labor code violation for unpaid wages by the state Department of Industrial Relations and that Lee had failed to list Park's sewing business as a sub-contractor in the same applications.
Park allegedly provided a forged document to an inspector from the Department of Industrial Relations during an investigation into her compliance with state labor laws, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The district attorney said his office's new Labor Justice Unit will be "specializing in doing nothing but wage theft," calling it an international problem that results in authorities not collecting payroll taxes that are used to provide for infrastructure and not collecting workers' compensation premiums that ensure workers get appropriate medical care when they are injured on the job.
He noted that "the good employers" are having to compete against other employers who under-bid them because they're not paying the full wages.
"And we all, collectively, end up paying the price of that because it has a ripple-down impact that covers every part of our community," Gascón said.
State Labor Commissioner Lila Garcia-Brower told reporters, "So, in this particular case, this contractor and manufacturer, they have a history of resolving claims. We have a pattern of one or two workers speaking up and filing a claim with my office and the employer resolving that claim. At that point, the employer understood that how they were operating their business was illegal, against the law, and they had the opportunity to come into compliance, but they failed to do so."
Marc Beaart, the director of the District Attorney's Bureau of Fraud and Corruption Prosecutions, said workers were allegedly being paid as low as $6 an hour, noting that is approximately two-thirds less than the minimum wage.
"Our overriding concern is that the workers are made whole," he said, noting that prosecutors will review records to determine how many hours they worked and what they should have been paid. He said prosecutors will also look at how much underpayment there allegedly was involving workers' compensation insurance.