Ming Lian Zhou, 57, the former owner of Hong Kong Lounge I and Hong Kong Lounge II, pleaded guilty this week to underpaying 46 employees by more than $90,000 and then threatening them to return the back pay, as well as lying to a government agency and threatening his employees with economic harm.
According to court documents, in 2012, the U.S. Labor Department ordered Zhou to pay the money back, but he failed to do so even after submitting signed documents to the Labor Department saying that he had. Zhou also allegedly instructed the employees to tell the Labor Department the money had been paid. Once the Labor Department found that out, they ordered him to pay the money directly to them so they could then hand out the back pay to the employees. Zhou then ordered the employees to cash the checks and return the back pay to him, according to documents, firing employees who would not and cutting hours of others. He was charged back in September, and plead guilty on Friday. He is scheduled for sentencing in January 2017, and could face up to 25 years in prison.
Of note: Hong Kong Lounge II at 3300 Geary Blvd. has a new owner (Annie Ho) who is not affiliated with this case. When Zhou was first charged, Ho’s lawyer told the San Francisco Business Times, “There are no allegations against Ms. Ho concerning her management of Hong Kong Lounge II. Though the two restaurants share the same name, they are run entirely independent of one another. Her staff receives full benefits and are always paid in accordance to federal overtime provisions and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Ms. Ho has familiarized herself with the rules and regulations of the Act to ensure compliance, which is in part why her restaurant was named (in the San Francisco Chronicle's) Top 100 restaurants in 2015.”
This is not San Francisco’s first brush with wage and labor disputes; Burma Superstar is currently being sued by former and current employees for the same issue, and in 2014, Yank Sing was ordered to pay $4 million in back wages to more than 280 current and former employees after a labor dispute.