California Labor Commissioner Partners with Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office on First Criminal Prosecution of Garment Manufacturing Business Owner for Felony Wage Theft
Los Angeles—The Labor Commissioner’s Office (LCO) Criminal Investigation Unit partnered with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office in the first criminal prosecution of a garment manufacturing business owner under California Penal Code Section 487m (Grand Theft of Wages), which became effective on January 1, 2022.
Lawrence Lee, co-owner of garment manufacturer business Parbe Inc., dba Fabiola, and Soon Ae Park, a garment contractor who had a history of wage theft, have been arraigned on felony charges of grand theft of wages and perjury by declaration.
“This is the first time a garment manufacturer and garment contractor have ever been arrested for wage theft,” said Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower. “These employers not only abused their workers by paying them as little as $6.00 per hour but they also defrauded the system. My office will continue to work with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office to prosecute bad-actor employers who commit wage theft and gain an unfair advantage over law-abiding employers.”
The LCO’s Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE) began its investigation of Park, a sewing contractor, in January 2021, and the case was referred to the LCO’s Criminal Investigative Unit in December 2021. Investigators determined there was probable cause to believe Soon Ae Park and Lawrence Lee committed grand theft of labor and perjury. Lawrence Lee and Soon Ae Park were arrested on September 6, 2023 and arraigned thereafter.
The investigation found that Park failed to pay her workers minimum wage or overtime, paid her workers in cash an average of $350 for more than 50 hours of work per week, and failed to provide workers with paystubs. Park also failed to provide workers with workers’ compensation insurance coverage or information about paid sick leave.
Parbe Inc., identified as a wage guarantor for Park, contracted with Park even after the Labor Commissioner’s Office notified it of alleged wage violations by Park. Both Parbe Inc. and Park were operating without required garment manufacturing registrations. Lawrence Lee also allegedly failed to provide material information on his garment manufacturing registration application under penalty of perjury.
In addition to these criminal charges, BOFE issued Notices of Joint Liability to Park and Parbe Inc. for over $81,000 for their failure to provide workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. Park was cited more than $70,000 for violation of the paid sick leave requirements, violating record-keeping requirements, and violating the garment registration provision. Parbe Inc. CEO Lawrence Lee was cited $4,000 for failure to provide workers with written notice of their paid sick leave, $4,000 for violation of record-keeping provisions, and $200 for violation of the garment registration provision. The citations totaled $161,738.
Under the Garment Worker Protection Act, contractors, manufacturers, and brand guarantors are jointly and severally liable for the full amount of unpaid minimum, regular, overtime and other premium wages, reimbursement for expenses, and any other compensation, including interest, due to all employees who perform manufacturing operations under this law.
Enforcement investigations typically include a payroll audit of the previous three years to determine minimum wage, overtime, and other labor law violations, and to calculate payments owed and penalties due. When workers are paid less than minimum wage, they are entitled to liquidated damages that equal the amount of underpaid minimum wages plus interest.
The Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (California Labor Commissioner’s Office) combats wage theft and unfair competition by investigating allegations of illegal and unfair business practices.
The Labor Commissioner’s Office in 2020 launched an interdisciplinary outreach campaign, “Reaching Every Californian.” The campaign amplifies basic protections and builds pathways to affected populations, so workers and employers understand legal protections and obligations, as well as the Labor Commissioner’s enforcement procedures. Californians can follow the Labor Commissioner on Facebook and Twitter.
Media Contact: Communications@dir.ca.gov, (510) 286-1161
Employers with Questions on Requirements May Contact: MakeItFair@dir.ca.gov