The owner of a lawn-care business in northeast Kentucky has admitted shorting workers of more than $150,000 in pay.
Michael Anthony Wheeler agreed in his guilty plea to pay $152,382 in overtime wages to people who worked at Tri-State Lawn Care, which has its office at Flatwoods, in Boyd County.
The plea also calls for Wheeler to pay a penalty of $25,000 to the U.S. Department of Labor when he is sentenced in July.
Wheeler pleaded guilty Friday in federal court. The company pleaded guilty as well, to charges of making false statements in immigration documents.
Wheeler’s company received visas to bring in between nine and 12 workers from the Dominican Republic each year between 2009 and 2017, according to a court document.
Wheeler said in visa applications that the foreign employees would do agricultural work, but instead used them for lawn-care jobs and construction, and did not pay them time and a half for overtime, according to his plea.
That mattered because there are different rules on farm and non-farm workers from other countries.
Tri-State workers told federal investigators they had to pay the company for their airfare and also paid fees for rent and for transportation to work sites, which are violations.
The minimum fine for the company under advisory guidelines would be about $450,000, but the company probably couldn’t pay that, according to the plea agreement.
In order to make sure Tri-State can repay workers, prosecutors and the company agreed on a fine of $25,000 for the company, according to the plea.
The deal also calls for the company to pay $174,704 to worker to make up for not paying them the proper wage and to repay them for prohibited charges such as rent and airfare, and to pay the government $75,000 in lieu of having the government seize its property.
Wheeler and the company also agreed to hire a third party to monitor their compliance with rules on the use of foreign workers.
The fines and will be due at sentencing in July if U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning accepts the plea terms.