A South El Monte chicken processing business will pay back more than $437,000 in “stolen” wages to workers who were denied full payment for their work, state officials announced Monday.
In a plea agreement, Golden Food Inc. admitted to a series of labor violations, including falsifying records, coercing employees to work off the clock and denying break periods, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and California Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower announced.
“Our economy depends on workers,” Lara said in a statement. “Golden Food violated the law, risking the safety of their employees and failing to pay them for their hard work.”
The company entered into the plea agreement after an investigation by state labor regulators.
Golden Food, owned by Feng Wen Lam and operated by her husband Wei Wu, was accused of underreporting its payroll to its workers’ compensation insurance carriers by over $4.48 million between 2015 and 2021. This resulted in a loss of $1.68 million in unpaid insurance premiums to four insurance companies, including the State Compensation Insurance Fund, officials said.
“These employers purposefully denied workers hard-earned wages with illegal and fraudulent schemes to falsify records, coerce employees to work off the clock and deny break periods,” García-Brower said in a statement. “Thanks to the excellent work and collaboration between our agencies, we were able to hold the employers accountable for these atrocious business practices.”
Officials said the California Department of Insurance received a referral from SCIF, which suspected the business of fraud after comparing the payroll reported during annual audits with the payroll reported to the Employment Development Department. CDI obtained a search warrant for GFI’s building and was able to obtain true payroll records from GFI’s computer, as well as fake tax reporting forms that the company allegedly used to perpetrate the fraud, regulators said.
The investigation led to 43 felony counts of insurance fraud, grand theft, and conspiracy against Lam and Wu.
The LCO’s parallel investigation uncovered significant wage theft over many years. Employees were forced to clock out for breaks and continue to work, were not paid overtime pay for work in excess of 40 weekly hours, and their pay stubs were falsified, according to the office.
Regulators say Wu “routinely” deducted work hours from employees and falsely counted that pay as a bonus. An audit by LCO found that Lam and Wu failed to pay at least $437,542.56 in labor to their 34 employees based on the minimum legal market value, the office reported.