Two Los Angeles car wash owners sentenced to jail for labor law violations
The owners of four Los Angeles car washes were each sentenced to a year in jail and are expected to have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages after pleading no contest to half a dozen criminal counts, authorities said Monday.
Benny and Nissan Pirian were charged by the city attorney's office in 2009 with 172 counts of violating criminal and labor laws for their treatment of workers. The original criminal complaint named four of their car wash businesses, including Celebrity Car Wash Inc. of Hollywood, Five Star Car Wash Inc. of Northridge, and Hollywood Car Wash Inc. and Vermont Hand Wash Inc. of Los Feliz.
On Friday, the brothers each entered a plea of no contest to six criminal counts, including conspiracy, grand theft and labor code violations, officials with the city attorney's office said. In addition to the jail time, the defendants will be placed on four years' probation and ordered to pay restitution to the victims in an amount to be decided at a future court future hearing.
To comply with the terms of probation, the brothers must keep payroll-, health- and safety-related records open for inspection at any time by the city attorney’s Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Witnesses in the case testified that a vast majority of the workers at the car washes were required to arrive at least 15 minutes before their shift, and to stay half an hour after closing. None of the workers were paid overtime and were discouraged from taking rest breaks or were denied breaks entirely, even during times of extreme heat.
The workers were paid a flat rate of $35 to $40 a day in violation of minimum-wage laws, according to the deputy city attorneys who tried the case, Julia Figueira-McDonough, Andrew Wong and Akili Nickson. Some worked for tips alone.
-- Andrew Blankstein
Photo: Demonstrators urge a boycott of Vermont Hand Wash in 2008. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times