After the state found he cheated immigrant workforce out of wages Chung Cho agreed to pay them what he owed. When he then allegedly missed those payments, the restaurant owner found himself arrested.
Cho, who owns Gourmet Heaven stores on Broadway and Whitney Avenue, was arrested Thursday for 22 counts of non-payment of wages, 21 counts of defrauding immigrants, and 15 counts of non-payment of overtime wages, according to Gary Pechie, director of the state Department of Labor.
“It was the culmination of a lengthy investigation that started during the summer,” Pechie said. The labor department looked into allegations that Cho wasn’t paying his workers for all the hours they worked—and found they were true.
“We determined that he owed over $218,000 in back wages,” Pechie said. Cho reached a settlement in which he agreed to pay $150,000 in back wages over a period of four months.
“He failed to make the payments. So we sought a warrant,” Pechie said.
Cho couldn’t be reached for comment.
Of three scheduled payments, Cho was late on the first one and “very late” on the second one, Pechie said. The third payment was on time, but Cho had already been arrested.
Cho is currently out on bond, with an arraignment scheduled for March 4.
Wage violations of over $2,000 can carry up to five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, or both. Pechie said 17 of the counts are for more than $2,000.
Pechie said the labor department pursues criminal charges as a last resort. “Obviously when you violate the law in this magnitude, you’re not getting it, so to speak, and we have to take stronger action.”
Pechie said about 10 percent of wage cases that reach the department of labor involve “significant amounts” of money due. “This one was very big. When you don’t pay people overtime and they’re working 80 hours per week, it adds up quick.”
Cho could face still higher penalties if he continues to underpay his workers.
“Shame on him if he continues to conduct business in this manner,” Pechie said. “When you intentionally don’t pay people and thumb your nose at the authorities, you’re going to pay a consequence.”
Pechie said another investigation, into allegations that Cho retaliated against workers who cooperated with the labor department, is ongoing.