State officials are prosecuting a Catalina Island couple following an investigation that uncovered over 14 years worth of wage theft totaling over $1 million.
Jack Tucey, 80, and Yueh Mei “Nora” Tucey, 75, owners of numerous restaurants and hotels in the island community of Avalon, are facing 25 felony charges, including grand theft wages, conspiracy to commit a crime and filing false and fraudulent returns after an investigation by the California Labor Commissioner’s Office’s Criminal Investigation Unit.
The investigation found that at least 18 workers were owed $1,032,684 — including more than $500,000 in unpaid overtime — to cover lost wages from July 2008 to Oct. 15, 2022. Additional workers may have been affected, according to a Nov. 2 press release from the California Department of Industrial Relations.
“These employers used sophisticated methods in a fraudulent scheme to pay their workers less than minimum wage, deprive them of essential labor protections and take unfair advantage over businesses that play by the rules,” Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower said in the release.
The Tuceys were arrested Nov. 2 and held on $590,000 bail each, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. It was not immediately clear if the couple remains in custody. They did not return calls for comment.
If convicted, the Tuceys will face a maximum of 22 years in prison, according to the DA’s office.
The couple operated numerous businesses during the years covered in the investigation, including El Galleon Restaurant, Mi Casita Authentic Mexican Restaurant, Antonio’s Pizzeria & Cabaret, Original Antonio’s Pizzeria, Food Brokers International, Inc., Catalina Hotel, Catalina Courtyard Hotel and Original Jack’s Restaurant and Bakery.
Today, the Tuceys continue to own and operate Original Jack’s, Mrs. T’s Chinese Kitchen and Avalon Bake Shop, Original Antonio’s Pizzeria and Deli, and Catalina Courtyard Hotel, LA County DA George Gascón said during a Nov. 2 press conference, adding that wage theft is one of the most underreported crimes in the county with around a billion dollars being stolen from workers each year.
“When employers are not paying their lawfully obligated wages, they’re also not paying labor taxes, they’re not paying workers comp, they’re not paying many other fees that are required to support so much of what we do each and every day,” Gascón said. “So it’s a crime that has a compounding effect on many levels, starting with workers and their families.”
Prosecutors allege workers would work at two or three of the Tucey’s businesses on the same day, sometimes for a combined 17 hours. They said workers were forced to clock out and record overtime hours by hand, for which they were paid their regular wage. Preparation and paper work were also done “off the clock,” García-Brower said during the press conference.
“Many of these employees were also living in the properties owned by these defendants, which placed them in a particularly vulnerable situation,” García-Brower said. “Once the employees would separate from the employer, they would be evicted.”
All of the workers lived on the island and feared being blacklisted if they spoke out against the unfair labor practices, García-Brower added.
The Labor Commissioner’s Office’s Bureau of Field Enforcement initiated the investigation in 2017 and handed it off to the Criminal Investigation Unit in 2022 after “seeing the extent of these violations,” García-Brower said.
Avalon Mayor Anni Marshall in an interview Saturday said she was shocked at the news, adding that Jack has been a Catalina staple for decades, but hopes everyone involved gets what they are owed.
“He’s always been very generous,” Marshall said of Tucey’s contributions to the island community. Most recently, she said Tucey commissioned a 16-by-45-foot mural celebrating the city’s annual 4th of July parade, which Marshall started 40 years ago.