Gourmet Heaven owner arrested for wage theft

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Photo by Jacob Geiger.

The Connecticut Department of Labor arrested Gourmet Heaven owner Chung Cho on Thursday on numerous counts of wage theft, the New Haven Police Department announced Monday afternoon.

Cho, who has been under investigation by the DOL since August, is facing a total of 42 felony and misdemeanor charges. Twenty-one of the charges are for wage theft of a sum exceeding $2,000, which constitutes a felony in Connecticut. Because the sum of stolen wages amounts to over $10,000, Cho faces a charge of first-degree larceny, a Class B felony.

He has also been charged with 20 counts of defrauding an immigrant worker, which is a misdemeanor.

Cho has posted his $5,000 bond and will go to court for arraignment on March 3.

“I don’t like to wish bad things on people, but I’m happy that the Department of Labor finally recognized Mr. Cho’s errors,” said a former Gourmet Heaven employee who wished to remain anonymous. “Now that they have been brought to light, people will know we were not lying or doing it for the money. Now the Department of Labor is doing what they must do.”

Gary Pechie, head of the DOL’s Wage and Workplace Standards Division, could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. He told the News in September that DOL would use its authority to arrest business owners in severe cases, when all attempts at mediation had failed and owners still refused to comply.

The DOL, NHPD and New Haven Board of Alders will host a press conference about the arrest at police headquarters on Wednesday afternoon, at which further details are expected to emerge.

After a DOL investigation that began in August, Cho was found guilty of paying 25 workers under minimum wage over the course of several years. In a settlement, he agreed to pay a total of $140,000 in back wages to the workers, as well as a $10,000 fine to the DOL.

Pechie told the New Haven Independent that Cho had been arrested after he failed to pay the first two installments of back wages in a timely manner. Cho paid the third installment on time, but the warrant for his arrest had already been issued when he made the payment, according to the Independent.

Eleven workers filed additional allegations with the DOL in late November about continuing improper payment, mistreatment and ethnic discrimination. Four former workers have also brought a complaint to the Connecticut Labor Commission alleging they were fired in retaliation for having made the aforementioned complaints. A Labor Commission investigation into these claims is still pending.

“This case should set a precedent, since wage theft, left unpunished, has become an epidemic [in New Haven],” said John Lugo, an activist with Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA), the grassroots group that began the ongoing boycott of the deli.

Megan Fountain, another ULA organizer, added that the arrest “gives hope to workers and former workers who are still waiting for Mr. Cho to pay tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.”

Workers and activists alike said they do not know the fate of the popular campus locale. Gourmet Heaven’s manager and several workers declined to comment.

Fountain said she hopes students will pressure Yale University Properties to act in compliance with the statement Vice President Bruce Alexander issued in the fall.

“Yale University Properties shares the concerns about the alleged labor violations at Gourmet Heaven,” the statement read. “We strongly condemn unfair labor practices and will not renew the lease of any tenant not in complete compliance with the labor laws regarding fair treatment of employees.”

Alexander could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Cho operates four Gourmet Heaven locations in New Haven and Providence, R.I.

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