California DA: Contractors failed to pay $200K in prevailing wages, state taxes
- The Orange County (California) District Attorney's Office has charged a group of contractors that performed work on the Pacific Amphitheater at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa between 2013 and 2015 with underpaying workers and failure to pay state taxes, an amount totaling $200,000, according to the Los Angeles Times.
- Prosecutors allege that the owners of AWI Builders, Zhirayr "Robert" Mekikyan and his wife, Anna Mekikyan of Pico Rivera, California, did not pay workers the prevailing wage rate established for the $10 million project, which was a new lobby and entrance area for the amphitheater, and created fraudulent records to conceal the supposed fraud. The DA's office also claims that AWI did not report the correct amount of wages to the California Employment Development Department to avoid paying its fair share of state payroll taxes.
- Also named in the suit is another one of the Mekikyans' companies, Construction Contractors Corp., and a family member's business, TOSC, Inc. Prosecutors allege that those companies also submitted forged apprenticeship certificates. An attorney for the Mekikyans said the charges against his clients are false.
Prevailing wage fraud is a problem nationwide, and local authorities have their hands full trying to root it out.
The Manhattan District Attorney's office has categorized this underpayment of workers as wage theft and, in December, charged area construction companies, as well as their owners, with stealing nearly $3 million in wages from more than 400 construction workers. Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said the companies stole employee pay through checks returned for insufficient funds, hourly rates lower than the prevailing wage, not paying overtime or not paying workers at all. The amounts not paid per construction company ranged from $13,000 to $700,000.
Often the targets of these sorts of criminal acts are immigrant workers who are hesitant to speak up if they are short on documentation or simply have a fear of going to the authorities. A little more than a year ago, New York City fined a New Jersey contractor more than $3 million for underpaying immigrant workers through schemes like making them cash their checks and return the money so that it could pay other workers under the table. Comptroller Scott Stringer said KS Contracting Corporation also were found to have shortchanged workers on the prevailing wage. The contractor has been barred from bidding on future city and state projects.
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