- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

The District of Columbia has filed criminal charges against the owner of a construction company accused of failing to pay 19 employees $30,000 in back wages some of that debt owed for work dating back to December.
The D.C. Corporation Counsel's office has charged Slap Construction owner Olan Thomas with 38 counts of willful failure to pay earned wages, said Pam Banks, associate director of the city's Wage-Hour Office. Those charges account for Mr. Thomas' failure to pay 19 workers on two occasions each.
The complaints her office received seemed similar, Ms. Banks said. Employees said they would work for at least a month or two two-week pay cycles without getting paid. After the second pay period without a paycheck, most would quit, realizing Mr. Thomas wasn't going to make good on his promise to pay.
"Some of them will go to a max of six to eight weeks," said Ms. Banks, adding that most of the problems emerged this summer. "It's sort of uncommon that we get such a large amount of calls about one employer. The chronic type of problems are unusual."
Kerry O'Brien of the D.C. Employment Justice Center and a law firm representing some of the unpaid workers said Mr. Thomas would typically place an ad in a local newspaper calling for workers at a particular construction site. The workers responding to the ads some of them recent immigrants and many of them poor would be told they were to be paid between $10 and $16 an hour. Many of the workers don't understand English, Ms. O'Brien said, making it easier to victimize them. And the way Mr. Thomas ran his company, Ms. Banks said, made it difficult to see exactly how much he owes workers.
"To my knowledge, the employer is not having the employee fill out forms," said Ms. Banks.
According to court documents, Mr. Thomas is to appear in Superior Court on Sept. 28. Each charge could carry a $300 fine and/or 30 days in jail, and if convicted on all counts, Mr. Thomas could spend more than three years in jail and be forced to pay $11,400 in fines.
Slap Construction is just one of many names under which Mr. Thomas operates his companies, Ms. Banks said. Thomas and Associates, Earthquake and One Plus One are other names the contractor has used.
Slap closed down two weeks ago, said one of the few remaining employees of the company.
"Slap Construction folded. For one reason, it was because of financial hardship," said Grace, who declined to give her last name. "We're just cleaning up."
Ms. O'Brien said that while she wants to see Mr. Thomas prosecuted, the ultimate goal is for the former employees to get paid.
"They are using this as a threat to get them to pay the workers," said Ms. O'Brien.

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