By Alexandra Mendoza
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office has filed criminal tax evasion and insurance fraud charges against the owners of a company that provides janitorial and housekeeping services to luxury hotels throughout Southern California.
Hyok “Steven” and Woo “Stephanie” Kwon, a married couple, are being accused of purportedly hiding the existence of at least 800 people who worked for their company, Good Neighbor Services for at least a decade, as well as of not paying their employees workers’ compensation benefits or overtime.
The couple also threatened to fire workers if they reported getting hurt on the job. In fact, one of their victims reported that she had to repeatedly ask for medical attention for her injury.
When she was finally sent to a doctor, the woman found out later that she had been sent to a dentist – rather than a physician – who was also an acquaintance of the Kwons, informed District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis during a press conference.
“These defendants lied on the backs of their employees who were cleaning rooms in some of the most prestigious hotels in California”, Dumanis said, calling it one the largest frauds of its kind in county history.
“This is not a victimless crime, this is on the backs of our hotel workers who work all day at one of the hardest jobs and are not getting medical attention”, added
The housekeeping and janitorial company provided service to such premium hotels as the La Four Seasons, Hilton, Hyatt, and Hotel Del Coronado, among others. Prosecutors said there has been no indication that these companies were aware of the situation the workers were going through.
The defendants were arrested after a three-year investigation spurred by reports made by janitors and other workers whose rights were violated to a watchdog organization.
“People generally feel intimidated and don’t want to report it; many of them don’t even know their rights to begin with. Unfortunately, this is something that happens every day”, stated Lilia Garcia, Executive Director of Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting workers.
Although these watchdog organizations do not keep a record of the immigration status of the people filing reports, because the victims are cared for regardless of it, it is known that many janitorial/housekeeping workers are undocumented.
“In California, when you work you have the same rights whether you have papers or not, but we know that pirate companies take advantage of this to keep people quiet, so regrettably that’s what we’re fighting against”, stressed the activist.
By denying their workers the rights they were entitled to, the Kwon couple’s company pocketed nearly $7 million, thus gaining an unfair advantage over their competitors.
If found guilty, both defendants face up to 30 years in prison, said Dumanis.
The District Attorney’s Office is asking additional victims of this fraud to come forward and report it by calling: 1-800-315-7672.