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Carwash owners sued by state for $6.6 million for allegedly exploiting workers

October 4, 2010 |  2:28 pm

State prosecutors filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit Monday against the owners of celebrity dining favorite Koi for allegedly exploiting workers at eight carwashes, including five in Southern California.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court claims members of the Sikder family routinely denied workers at the carwashes that they own minimum wage and overtime, failed to pay wages owed to those who quit or were fired, denied rest and meal breaks and created false time sheets.

The businesses in Fair Oaks, Folsom, Irvine, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Santa Monica, San Ramon and Venice operated for years without licenses from the labor commissioner, which are required under California law, according to the state attorney general's office.

The defendants, including Sikder Group Inc., ZMS Group Inc. and Sikder Holdings Inc., are being sued for $6.6 million in lost wages and civil penalties, and state prosecutors said they also are seeking an injunction to prevent future violations, Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said in a statement.

"While Koi served up yellowtail tartare and Kobe beef carpaccio to Hollywood celebrities, the restaurant's owners routinely denied wages, breaks and overtime pay to workers at their unlicensed carwashes," Brown said in a statement.

An example cited by state prosecutors was the case of Sergio Diaz-Esquivel and Juvenal Diaz-Esquivel, who quit their jobs at the Wash & Go Hand Wash in Irvine after not being paid overtime or for all their hours, despite working seven-day weeks.

In August 2007, they obtained judgments totaling $14,708.24, including penalties for the car wash's willful failure to pay them their wages. The car wash still has not paid them.

Brown said it was in sharp contrast to the money the family earned by owning and operating Koi, a high-end Japanese restaurant with locations in West Hollywood, New York, Las Vegas and Bangkok.

"The restaurants gross millions of dollars annually and are regularly featured in gossip magazines and on television shows, including HBO's 'Entourage,' because of their celebrity clientele," Brown said.

The eight carwashes named in the lawsuit are: Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica; Crown Valley Car Wash in Laguna Niguel; Gold Rush Auto Spa in Folsom; Gold Rush Auto Spa II in Fair Oaks; Laguna Hills Union 76 Station [Car Wash] in Laguna Hills; Marina Car Wash in Venice; Sponges Car Wash in San Ramon; Wash & Go Hand Wash (also known as Wash & Go Hand Carwash Corp. and Irvine Auto Spa) in Irvine.

-- Andrew Blankstein