In separate cases, state and federal authorities have successfully resolved cases recently involving Orange County employers who screwed their workers out of thousands of dollars.
The more serious case was against father and son Daniel Jacob Siapin, 60, and Gabriel Daniel Siapin, 37, both of La Habra Heights. They embezzled more than $300,000 from employee wages on public works jobs.
Daniel Siapin owned Siapin Horticulture, a landscaping, irrigation, and maintenance company he ran with his son. State law requires companies on public works jobs to pay a minimum “prevailing wage,” which includes a base salary and benefits such as vacation pay and pension funds. The fringe benefits must be paid directly to the employee or, if s/he does not work 40 hours in a week, placed in a fund from which the worker can draw the benies.
Unfortunately for the Siapins, the California Labor Commissioner's office and the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) received a complaint alleging underpayments of prevailing wages to workers on the Lakeside Middle School alterations project in Lakeside. In February 2010, the city of Los Angeles Compliance Department and Center for Contract Compliance assessed penalties and wage fines against the Siapin Horticulture for not paying their employees the prevailing wage on a public works job. A civil assessment was levied against the Siapins.
In June 2010, the father and son met with employees and offered to contract with a third party administrator to hold the employees' fringe benefits in a savings account. But between 2011 and February 2013, the Siapins failed to deposit more than $300,000 in employee fringe benefits into the savings account from work performed in Orange and other Southern California counties.
“The defendants instead embezzled the money meant for employee fringe benefits,” says the OCDA, adding the State Labor Commissioner's office levied civil wage and penalty assessments for past wages following a 17-month in-depth investigation.
The dad and son pleaded guilty to a court offer of 28 felony counts of taking and receiving a portion of worker's wage on public works, and 32 felony counts of recording a false and forged instrument with a sentencing enhancement for property loss over $200,000. Daniel Siapin's California state contractor's license was revoked by the court as well.
Daniel and Gabriel Siapin are each expected to sentenced to 90 days in jail, three years formal probation, ordered to pay $227,000 in restitution and be prohibited from working on any other public works contracts when they are sentenced April 11 in Santa Ana.
Meanwhile, investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found ProBuilt Tools of Laguna Hills in violation of the overtime and record-keeping provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The company misclassified many of its workers as independent contractors and did not pay them legally required overtime when they worked beyond 40 hours in a work week, according to Leo Kay, regional public affairs director with the Department of Labor's San Francisco office.
The firm agreed to comply with the law in the future and pay $24,172 in back wages and an additional equal amount in liquidated damages for a total of $48,344 to 23 employees. ProBuilt has already been assessed more than $7,000 in civil penalties “because of the willful nature of the violations,” Kay said.
“Failure to pay legally required wages hurts not only workers and their families, but leads to unfair competition because businesses that play by the rules operate at a disadvantage when compared with those that don’t,” stated Rodolfo Cortez, the district director for the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division in San Diego, Orange and Imperial counties. “This investigation should send a clear message to other employers to evaluate their pay practices and to ensure that they are in compliance with federal labor laws.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.