A September sentencing date in United States District Court has been set for local businessman Justin Hamilton, who made an appearance Thursday and pleaded guilty to one felony count of “obstruction of proceedings before departments and agencies.”
“The government has recognized that part of this may have just been oversight and sloppiness on his part,” said defense attorney Greg Skordas.
According to the court minutes, Hamilton appeared before Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner and pleaded guilty to a specific statement of facts that are also outlined in a formal plea agreement filed with the court.
In summary, Hamilton acknowledged verbally and in writing that as a co-owner of Cafe Sabor:
— He was aware of a Department of Labor investigation that uncovered “alleged wage and hour violations” at Cafe Sabor restaurants.
— That he entered into an agreement to pay $125,715 in back wages and liquidated damages for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
— That he sent checks with forged endorsements to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, making it appear that he had satisfied his obligations under the settlement agreement when he had not.
— Specifically, that he emailed forged checks to show his compliance with the settlement agreement “in an endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede the administration of the … investigation into Cafe Sabor,” a violation of federal law.
The plea agreement also includes a clause that says Hamilton will not be required to spend time in confinement if he pays $109,902 in restitution prior to sentencing, which is currently scheduled for Sept. 11.
According to documents filed in federal court, Cafe Sabor’s Bear Lake location was the subject of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s and Hours Commission Division.
“The investigation uncovered wage and hour violations that appear to be systemic and the WHD investigated two other Cafe Sabor locations in Layton, Utah and Logan, Utah,” states a charging document filed in federal court.
Court records state that Hamilton entered into a settlement agreement to pay nearly $126,000 in back wages on or before July 31, 2017.
In September that year, Hamilton allegedly sent several emails to the WHD with what appeared to be proof of payment.
“WHD attempted to verify that the Cafe Sabor employees have been paid their back wages,” the charging document states. “The verification revealed that some employees were not paid and that the canceled checks used as proof of payment had been forged.”
Even then, Skordas said Hamilton was given multiple opportunities to clear up the matter with the Department of Labor before the Office of the United States Attorney filed criminal charges earlier this year.
“He had an opportunity and it should have been resolved then and it wasn’t — he was just foolish,” Skordas said.