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Criminal Charges Filed Against Car Wash Owner for Unpaid Wages

Wilshire West Car Wash is the third Santa Monica car wash accused of violating California's labor laws. It is the first to face criminal charges by the city.

Criminal charges have been filed against the owner, manager and supervisors of Wilshire West Car Wash, where Santa Monica city prosecutors allege workers are being cheated out of pay.

An 11-count criminal complaint filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court accuses the defendants of falsifying and altering employees' time cards to make it appear as though they worked fewer hours than they actually did. It also accuses the defendants of violating California labor laws by not giving workers rest and meal breaks and "coercing employees into signing declarations which falsely stated that they had received paid breaks," according to city prosecutors.

Named in the complaint are Wilshire West Car Wash LLC and its parent company, Maxxam Enterprises III, LLC., along with owner Mehdi Soroudi, general manager Gary Pendleton, and supervisors Rigoberto Torres and Remberto Viramontes.

The owner and manager were not on-site Wednesday, a cashier said, and could  not immediately be reached for comment.

Wilshire West, at 2320 Wilshire Blvd., is the third of four Santa Monica car washes accused of mistreating its workers.

Santa Monica Car Wash and Detailing at 2510 Pico Blvd. is the subject of a civil complaint filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund on behalf of workers in May. The suit seeks unpaid wages and restitution for time the employees allegedly worked off the clock, without overtime pay and without rest or meal breaks.

Earlier this year, the state Attorney General announced settlement of a lawsuit it had filed against eight other California car washes—including Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica—over similar accusations.

Months before the settlement, Bonus Car Wash became the first in Southern California car wash to unionize. At a press conference announcing the filing of the civil suit, Maria Elena Durazo, of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO Durazo called on the Santa Monica City Council "to stand up and defend these workers."

"Wilshire West Car Wash was not the subject of either of those cases," said Adam Radinsky, head of the city's consumer protection unit. "So the problems being addressed in this case were not being addressed in those other cases."

The misdmeanor charges against Wilshire West include grand theft of money and labor by false pretenses, conspiracy, failure to pay minimum wage, failure to give meal breaks, failure to give paid breaks and taking back wages that have already been paid.

The case was investigated by the city attorney's office, the California Labor Commissioner's Office and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 26. Each of the 11 charges carries a maximum penalty of one year in county jail and maximum fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 per offense, according to Radinsky.

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Betsy Katz January 24, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Really? Grand theft of money and labor by false pretenses, conspiracy, failure to pay minimum wage, failure to give meal breaks, failure to give paid breaks and taking back wages that have already been paid are misdemeanors? That's criminal.
Diane January 24, 2013 at 05:54 PM
They should go to jail. I hope they don't get away with just a fine. Their behavior is criminal, and should be a felony, not a misdemeanor!

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