The owner of a popular Utah chain of Mexican restaurants is facing up to five years in prison, charged with forging checks meant to repay his workers’ back wages.
Justin Hamilton, 40, of Logan, pleaded not guilty in April to a felony charge of obstructing a proceeding of a federal agency. On Monday, the Utah U.S. attorney’s office scheduled a change-of-plea hearing for Thursday.
According to court documents, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division — which enforces federal labor laws covering the minimum wage, overtime pay and related record keeping — investigated violations at Café Sabor in Bear Lake. Hamilton is co-owner of Café Sabor, which also has locations in Layton, Logan and St. George, Utah, and Idaho Falls and Island Park, Idaho.
In its investigation in October 2016, the division found the violations to be systemic, and also investigated the Layton and Logan locations. The following February, Hamilton reached an agreement with the division to pay his employees back wages of $125,715.70.
When the division’s Salt Lake City office checked in September 2017 to get proof that Hamilton had paid the back wages, a court document said, Hamilton replied by email with copies of checks made to the workers. When the division checked with the employees, they found some employees weren’t paid and the canceled checks were forged.