CITY HALL ‚Äî The owner and managers of a Santa Monica carwash are charged with cheating their employees out of money by falsifying the number of hours worked and failing to pay minimum wage, according to a criminal complaint filed by the City Attorney‚Äôs office Wednesday.
The 11-count criminal complaint against Wilshire West Car Wash LLC and its parent company, Maxxam Enterprises III, LLC is based on a joint investigation with the California Labor Commissioner‚Äôs Office and Santa Monica‚Äôs Consumer Protection Unit.
The owner of the carwash, Mehdi Soroudi; general manager Gary Pendleton; and supervisors Rigoberto Torres and Remberto Viramontes have been charged on multiple accounts of conspiracy to cheat wages from employees of Wilshire West Carwash for the last four years. The criminal charges, all of which are misdemeanors, include: Altering time records, forcing employees to pay unnecessary fees, failure to give the breaks required by law and failure to pay minimum wage.
Each of the charges carries a maximum penalty of one year in county jail and maximum fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 per offense. The defendants will be arraigned at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Airport Courthouse, Feb. 26. Neither the owner nor the managers named in the complaint could be reached for comment.
Wilshire West Carwash is the third carwash in Santa Monica to face legal action for paying unfair wages. In 2009, the California Attorney General‚Äôs Office sued the owners of Bonus Car Wash, and last May workers of Santa Monica Car Wash sued the owners, alleging class-wide wage theft. These, along with the allegations of eight other carwashes in the state, were denied by the owners, in court documents.
The Bonus Car Wash case was settled in January of last year with the owners agreeing to pay more than $1 million in restitution of unpaid wages and $50,000 in employment taxes. The owners signed an agreement in October of 2011, allowing their employees to form a union, making Bonus Car Wash the first unionized carwash in the United States.
After learning about the two aforementioned carwashes that were already a subject of litigation, city officials and the state Commissioners Office held a meeting to discuss the status of other carwashes in Santa Monica. That led to the investigation to make sure that employees were being treated fairly.
The CLEAN (Community Labor Environmental Action Network) Carwash Campaign, a network of labor and community groups that supports the rights, health and safety of carwash employees in the greater Los Angeles area issued a statement on Wednesday, applauding City Hall‚Äôs decision to file charges.
“It is important to educate workers about their rights and support their efforts to bring justice ‚Ä¶ ,” Justin McBride, the director of CLEAN Carwash Campaign, said. “We stand in full solidarity with the affected workers and their families.”
The case is still being investigated by the Labor Commissioner and City Attorney‚Äôs Office. Employees or other witnesses with information about Wilshire West and its labor practices are encouraged to contact the City Attoney‚Äôs Consumer Protection Unit at (310) 458-8327.