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Oakland Chinese Restaurant Owner Charged With Labor Violations

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- The owner of a Chinese buffet in Oakland has been charged in Alameda County Superior Court with 16 labor violations, including failing to pay minimum wages to his workers and committing payroll tax and workers' compensation fraud.

Ji Li Zheng, owner of Century Buffet in the city's Fruitvale District, surrendered voluntarily in Berkeley on Tuesday evening and is now in custody, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Erin Loback said.

Zheng will be arraigned and given a bail hearing in a Hayward courtroom at 2 p.m. Thursday.

The charges were announced Wednesday by District Attorney Nancy O'Malley and state Labor Commissioner Julie Su.

The 16 felony and misdemeanor charges include five counts of failing to pay minimum wages and overtime and 10 counts of committing unemployment insurance tax and workers' compensation fraud by underreporting the true number of employees.

Zheng is also accused in the criminal complaint of one count of attempting to dissuade two employees from talking to investigators about their work and their pay during an investigation in June.

District attorney's Inspector Thomas Haselton said in a declaration filed with the complaint in October that the investigation allegedly showed that Zheng falsified time sheets and payroll records.

Haselton said Zheng reported during the past three years that he only had six to 12 employees each quarter.

The inspector said there were in fact 19 employees working at the restaurant on the date of a June 20 search of the facility, located at 4108 International Blvd.

He said investigators found that at least 41 employees had worked at the restaurant between late 2010 and June of this year.

Loback said that if Zheng is convicted of all charges, he could face 15 years in prison.

Zheng's attorney, Robert Cummings, said Zheng is cooperating with authorities and "hopes to resolve this matter."

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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