September 6, 2023
Media Relations Division
District Attorney Gascón Announces Creation of New Labor Justice Unit, Historic Charges Filed in Wage Theft Case in South Los Angeles
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced the creation of the office’s first Labor Justice Unit (LJU) today at a news conference. The District Attorney was also joined by State Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower to announce the filing of charges by the newly formed LJU in a seven-count felony complaint against owners of two garment industry businesses in South Los Angeles.
“I am pleased to announce the formation of my office’s newly established Labor Justice Unit. The Unit will bolster our existing fight to end wage theft and labor exploitation by providing a dedicated team of seasoned prosecutors and investigators whose focus will be the enforcement of these laws,” District Attorney Gascón said. “Los Angeles remains the wage theft capitol of the country. This historic unit will enable the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to take greater action against financial crimes affecting hardworking Angelenos and their families.”
“Employers in this case knowingly and intentionally denied workers their hard-earned wages, paying workers as low as $6.00 an hour,” said State Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower. “These bad actor employers abused workers, defrauded the system and should not be in business. California needs more criminal prosecutions of wage theft to protect workers and honest employers from unfair competition. My office will continue to work closely with the LADA office to hold perpetrators accountable,” added García-Brower.
Wage theft is a pervasive issue that affects workers across various industries and has serious economic and social implications. It occurs when employers deny workers their rightful wages, benefits, or overtime pay, or engage in other illegal practices to underpay or exploit their employees. Studies estimate that billions of dollars are stolen from workers each year through wage theft, making it a significant economic concern. Wage theft can take various forms, such as unpaid overtime, minimum wage violations, illegal deductions, misclassification of employees as independent contractors, and denial of benefits.
The county’s diverse workforce, consisting of both documented and undocumented workers, is particularly vulnerable to exploitation and wage theft due to language barriers, limited awareness of labor rights, and fear of retaliation. A report from the Economic Policy Institute in 2017 revealed that wage theft alone results in an excess of $8 billion annually in unpaid wages. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and California Labor Commissioner entered into an agreement to bolster the investigation and prosecution of wage theft in late 2021. Read the press release regarding the agreement here. The establishment of the LJU aims for an even greater shift in labor law enforcement in Los Angeles County.
Soon Ae Park (dob 2/23/59) is charged with two felony counts of grand theft of wages from two different employees exceeding $950, one count of perjury by declaration, and one count of procuring and offering false or forged instrument. Lawrence Gi Lee (dob 03/29/55) is charged with three counts of perjury by declaration.
Park and Lee owned two garment industry businesses in South Los Angeles between 2017 and 2022. Park, who ran a sewing contracting business performed most of the sewing for Lee’s garment manufacturing business. The sewing workers were allegedly repeated victims of wage theft during this period, including the failure to pay minimum wage and overtime despite working 55 hours a week.
In 2018, Park and Lee agreed to pay settlements to former workers for underpaying them. After paying the settlements, Park and Lee allegedly perjured themselves in their Garment Manufacturers and Contractors Registration applications by stating they had not been cited for or settled a labor code violation for unpaid wages by the Department of Industrial Relations. Lee also allegedly failed to list Park’s sewing business as a sub-contractor in the same applications.
In 2022, Park allegedly provided a forged Certificate of Registration document to an inspector for the Department of Industrial Relations during an investigation into her compliance with California labor laws.
The case is the first filed by the office’s new Labor Justice Unit, and the first office filing of PC 487m grand theft wages, a groundbreaking new law that updated the ability to recognize and charge theft of wages as a felony level crime.
Case BA517395 was investigated by the Labor Commissioner’s Office.
If you believe you were a victim of wage theft by the defendants Park or Lee, please call the California Labor Commissioner’s Office Investigator Eduardo Martinez at 818-901-5305.
To report wage theft please file a complaint at https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/howtofilewageclaim.htm or call: 833-LCO-INFO (833-526-4636).