IR #2013-03
January 23, 2013

Peter Melton
Erika Monterroza
(510) 286-1161

Twitter @CA_DIR

California Labor Commissioner investigation results in charges against Santa Monica car wash

Los Angeles—A criminal complaint for conspiracy and grand theft was filed today against Wilshire West Car Wash LLC and its parent company, Maxxam Enterprises III, LLC as a result of a joint investigation of wage theft by the California Labor Commissioner and the Santa Monica City Consumer Protection Unit.

Wilshire West Car Wash was initially investigated by the California Labor Commissioner's office in June 2012.  The criminal complaint, filed today by the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office, includes charges against the business owner Mehdi Soroudi, car wash general manager Gary Pendleton, and supervisors Rigoberto Torres and Remberto Viramontes. The four are charged with conspiracy to cheat employees out of their wages.

“Wage theft hurts workers, honest employers, and the honest tax payer,” said Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker. “California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement plays a critical role in enforcing labor laws and preventing wage theft. Employers who deny the workers their pay will be held accountable.” The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), also known as the Labor Commissioner’s office, is a division of DIR.

The California Labor Commissioner’s office launched its investigation at the Wilshire West Car Wash, located at 2320 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, and uncovered deliberate methods used over the past four years to cheat dozens of workers employed at the car wash out of their wages.

"The criminal charges filed today send a strong message that employers who engage in wage theft in California will not be allowed to do so with impunity," said California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su.  “Our office initially investigated Wilshire West Car Wash and saw the myriad ways workers were being cheated out of the pay they were entitled to, and the schemes utilized to cover up the wage theft such as off-the-clock work and falsified records. I am proud that we were able to bring these abuses to light and now to work with the Santa Monica City Attorney's office to prosecute them."

The illegal labor practices included altering employee time records and creating false time records to make it appear that workers had worked fewer hours; creating false time records to give the appearance that workers had taken meal breaks when workers were still on duty; failing to give the workers a paid rest period or meal break as required by law, forcing workers to sign statements falsely stating they had received paid breaks; forcing employees to pay for illegal fees; and threatening, harassing and punishing those workers who questioned the illegal actions.

The U.S. Department of Labor also provided assistance in the investigation.  

The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office filed charges for 11 counts of criminal activity, including grand theft of money and labor by false pretenses; conspiracy; failure to pay minimum wage; failure to give meal breaks and rest breaks; and taking back wages which had been paid. Each of the charged offenses is a misdemeanor.
DLSE and the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office continue to investigate this case.

The California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Labor Standards Enforcement adjudicates wage claims, investigates discrimination and public works complaints and enforces state labor law. Additional information on labor laws and work-related topics are available on our Web site, as well as on Facebook and Twitter

Employees with work-related questions or complaints may call the California Workers’ Information Hotline at (866) 924-9757 for recorded information on a variety of work related topics.

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