Restaurateur accused of cheating workers out of overtime

The part-owner of two dim sum restaurants in San Francisco has been indicted on federal charges related to an alleged scheme in which he lied about his failure to give overtime pay and then, after being required to pay, sought to force workers to kick back the money.

Ming Ling Zhou, 57, of San Francisco, part-owner of Hong Kong Lounge I and Hong Kong Lounge II, was charged in a federal grand jury indictment issued in San Francisco on Sept. 17 and unsealed on Wednesday.

He is charged with one count of scheming to hide a material fact from a government agency when he allegedly falsely told the U.S. Department of Labor in 2012 that he had paid the $93,000 in overtime.

Zhou also faces three counts of interfering with commerce by threats for allegedly seeking to extort from employees the back pay he was finally forced to provide in 2013.

Zhou made an initial appearance on Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Sallie Kim, who granted him pretrial release on a $50,000 bond. He is due to be arraigned before Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte on Oct. 7.

The two restaurants are both located on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco, one in the Laurel Heights District and the other in the Richmond District.

The indictment says that Labor Department investigators determined in a probe that began in 2010 that Zhou failed to pay about $93,000 in overtime wages.

It alleges that Zhou falsely certified to the agency in April 2012 that he had paid each employee. After a worker complained, the department mailed forms directly to the employees in December of that year and Zhou allegedly instructed them to say they had been paid although he had not paid them.

In 2013, the department ordered Zhou to send two cashier’s checks totaling about $110,000 so that the agency could give the workers the unpaid wages, according to the indictment.

Zhou sent in the funds and the agency mailed checks to individual workers, but Zhou allegedly then told the workers to kick back the money to him. The indictment alleges that when workers failed to do so, Zhou changed their schedules, reduced their hours or fired them.