Restaurant Owners Charged with Stealing Millions from Employees and California Tax Payers

restaurant check cash and changeEight owners and managers of Chinese restaurants in Northern California have been charged with conspiracy, wage theft and workers’ compensation fraud after allegedly stealing $4.5 million in wages from their employees and $2 million from taxpayers.

In December 2016, a grand jury indicted the owners and managers of Golden Dragon Buffet in Brentwood, New Dragon Buffet in San Leandro, Golden Wok Buffet in Roseville and Kokyo Sushi Buffet in Hayward on 28 charges. Five of the eight defendants have agreed to plead guilty to some of the charges and will be sentenced June 20, 2017. Three have fled the country and are believed to be in China, according to state investigators.

Employee Rights Violations

A state investigation into the Chinese restaurants discovered that the owners subjected employees to inhumane conditions and regularly violated employment laws.

The defendants recruited workers, most of whom were recent immigrants, from Southern California to their Bay Area and Roseville restaurants. When the workers arrived, some were paid less than six dollars per hour and worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week.

Former employees testified before the grand jury that they were forced to live in crowded, segregated dorms that separated workers by race. One defendant described living in a garage with 14 other workers.

When one of the owners discovered some employees were cooperating with law enforcement, the owner allegedly forced them to leave and threatened to report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. California labor officials have called this case the biggest wage theft case in Contra Costa County’s history.

However, state officials are still concerned that wage theft is a more prevalent problem than once realized.

What is Wage Theft?

Although wage theft does not always occur on such a grand scale, it is common throughout the state.

For this reason, it is important that all workers understand their legal rights. Federal and state labor laws provide extensive protections for workers to guarantee they are treated and paid fairly by employers.

Minimum Wage

Most employees are entitled to a minimum wage for the hours they work. As of 2017, California’s minimum wage is $10.00 per hour (for employers of 25 or fewer), with a fifty-cent rate of increase for each year that follows.

The wages for workers paid by piece rate, by commission, or by each working day, must equal at least minimum wage for each hour worked. This does not include tips, which are separate and cannot be counted as wages.

Some cities in California have set their own minimum wage that differs from the state’s standards. Sacramento’s minimum wage is $10.50 per hour in 2017, and is expected to increase to $12.50 per hour by 2020.


Employees that qualify for overtime in California are guaranteed:

  • 1.5 times their regular hourly wages for each hour worked past eight hours in a workday or more than 40 hours in a week
  • Double their regular hourly wages for each hour exceeding 12 hours in a workday

If workers are required to work seven days in a workweek, regardless of the total number of hours worked in the week, they must be paid:

  • 1.5 times their regular hourly wages for the first eight hours on the seventh day
  • Double their regular hourly wages for all hours worked over eight hours on the seventh day

Meal and Rest Breaks

Most workers in California are guaranteed to receive the following breaks:

  • A 30-minute off-the-clock meal break after working more than five hours in a day
  • An additional 30-minute unpaid meal break after working more than 12 hours in a day
  • A paid 10-minute rest break after every four hours worked

Promised Hourly Wages

Your employer is required to pay you the wages that were agreed upon when you were first hired, regardless of whether that agreement was made orally or in writing.


It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee in California. State and federal laws protect workers from being punished or fired for reporting labor or safety violations in the workplace.

If you experience any form of retaliation, such as being fired for reporting wage theft, you will need to file a claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Office within six months of the incident.

Contact Our Sacramento Wage Theft Attorneys for Legal Help

Wage theft is a serious issue that poses a danger to California’s workers and creates tension within the employer-employee relationship.

If you believe your employer has withheld your wages do not hesitate to contact the Arnold Law Firm for a free, no obligation consultation to determine if you are entitled to damages and legal action.

We will review your past employment records and wages and your employer’s history to build a case on your behalf. Our work is provided on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay us if we recover compensation for your claim.

Call (916) 777-7777 or complete our Free Case Evaluation form to get started.