Criminal Case Filed against L.A. Carwash Owners

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Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo filed a 176-count criminal complaint Monday against two carwash owners, a manager and four carwashes for “repeatedly and willfully violating labor laws and creating a work environment that bordered on indentured servitude,” according to a statement released by Delgadillo’s office. The defendants face more than $1.25 million in fines.

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges carwash owners Benny and Nissan Pirian routinely ignored wage, hour and rest break laws, forced workers to drink nonpotable water, and required employees to purchase uniforms and equipment from their bosses. The Pirians are each charged with 172 counts of California Labor and Penal Code violations. If convicted on all counts, each faces nearly 86 years in county jail and $136,000 in fines.

“In this City, we will hold to account and prosecute those who cheat or abuse their employees,” Delgadillo said. “We are not going to allow business owners to cut corners — in violation of the law — to turn a profit.”

The Pirians have been at the center of controversy for months and the target of labor officials and union organizers, who are trying to mobilize Southern California carwash workers. According to prosecutors, carwash employees attempting to organize or cooperate with ongoing government or labor union investigations faced routine intimidation and harassment.

In two separate incidents, Manuel Reyes, a manager who works for the Pirians’ carwash operation, allegedly brandished a machete and a club, Delgadillo’s office reported. Reyes faces two counts of witness intimidation and two counts of brandishing a deadly weapon. He faces a maximum sentence of 2.5 years in jail and $3,000 in fines.

The four carwashes named were Celebrity Car Wash Inc., Five Star Car Wash Inc., Hollywood Car Wash Inc. and Vermont Hand Wash Inc. Each carwash also faces 172 counts of labor and penal code violations, with each business facing up to $136,000 in fines.

The criminal filing stems from an investigation conducted by the city attorney’s office in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Prosecutors have accused the Pirians of routinely denying employees fair wages, refusing to pay for overtime, and ignoring rest and lunch break requirements. Some of the Pirians’ employees were paid a flat rate of $35 to $40 per day, with some working for tips alone, Delgadillo’s office said.

Investigators also have charged the Pirians with failing to provide adequate drinking water for employees. At some of the carwash locations, the only drinking water provided allegedly came from a filtered pump attached to the same washing machine used to clean dirty towels, according to the city attorney’s office. The only alternative on-site was to buy bottled water for $1.50 to $2 per bottle, officials said.

The carwashes also did not meet safety standards and failed to arrange necessary medical attention for workers who suffered serious physical injuries, including acid burns, deep puncture wounds and lacerations, prosecutors said.

The city attorney’s Environmental Justice Unit also filed two criminal counts each against Northridge Real Estate Properties LLC, Five Star Car Wash and the Pirians, doing business as Northridge Car Wash, for failing to remove three underground storage tanks in violation of city codes intended to prevent the contamination of soil and groundwater with gasoline and to provide for the discovery and clean-up of fuel that may have been released into the soil and groundwater.

Because the tanks have not been removed, no soil or groundwater sampling has been conducted. It is unknown if the Northridge Car Wash site is contaminated.

The violations are misdemeanors punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or jail time up to six months.

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