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Prosecutors: Senor Tequila is no bueno

Margaritas? Check.

Salsa? Check.

Lying to federal officials? Check.

The owner of Senor Tequila Restaurants in Charleston has pleaded guilty to making false statements to U.S. Labor Department officials in an alleged effort to hide the fact that he had failed to pay back wages to several of his employees.

According to federal prosecutors in South Carolina, Jose Jamie Villalpando, 48, of Charleston, had been the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division that sought to determine whether he had been complying with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act when paying seven of his employees. That investigation found that Senor Tequila had failed to pay seven of its employees an estimated total of $106,103.05 in minimum wage and overtime pay for the period of July 28, 2008, to July 19, 2010.

Villalpando was ultimately required to pay back wages to the restaurant’s employees. However, prosecutors allege that rather than making those payments, Villalpando orchestrated a scheme designed to make it appear he was making payments to employees when, in fact, he was not.

The alleged scheme involved Villalpando writing “back wages” checks to three employees. He then took those employees to the bank used by Senor Tequila and helped them set up accounts. The employees deposited the back-wages checks into their new accounts. But over the next few weeks, Villalpando had the three employees withdraw the amounts of the back wages paychecks from their accounts in increments and give the money back to him.

Once he had received the money from the employees, Villalpando mailed letters to WHD stating that he paid the three employees, and he attached copies of the cancelled back wages paychecks in an attempt to show that he had in fact paid the employees.

In all, prosecutors alleged Villalpando’s scheme allowed him to avoid paying $76,575.92 in back wages.

Villalpando entered a guilty plea last month to one count of making false statements to federal officials. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

If you can’t trust Senor Tequila, whom can you trust?

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