Epicurean and Co. proprietor Chang Wook Chon pled guilty to the charge of criminal contempt for violating a court order issued during a civil lawsuit in a status hearing March 7.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Bill Miller, the charge carries a maximum of one year in prison, a potential fine and other penalties.
This is the latest development in the USA v. Chon case, which began in 2010 with a lawsuit against Chon for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by withholding four Epicurean employees’ overtime work payment. Chon’s inappropriate conduct in the civil case, which allegedly included threats to the plaintiffs during the proceedings, led to a criminal case, causing the original case to be put on hold.
Chon entered into a four-month deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office; if the agreement is followed, the office will ask the court to dismiss the case without entering a judgment of conviction.
Per the agreement, Chon must obey all federal, state or local laws, cannot contact plaintiffs from the various civil cases he is involved in, must donate $2,500 to a nonprofit providing employment training and placement and must comply with any additional court orders or rulings. In addition, Chon must pay a $50 special assessment fee to the court.
If Chon breaks the agreement, however, he would be sentenced according to original guilty plea.
A follow-up status hearing is set for July 9, until which time Chon will remain free on personal recognizance of his guilt.
“The hearing in July will likely assess if he met terms of the agreement, and if so, the charge could be dismissed,” Miller said.
According to Darin Dalmat of James & Hoffman, the law firm representing one of the employees in the civil suit, Chon has not contacted the plaintiffs about resuming the civil case proceedings but expressed an interest in moving ahead during previous status hearings in the criminal case.
“Certainly, we welcome the opportunity to move forward with the civil case and wrap it up as soon as possible,” Dalmat said.
Dalmat added that the criminal contempt was one of several instances of inappropriate conduct by Chon.
“We thought that Chon had engaged in a variety of bad conduct,” Dalmat said. “The confession of guilty to this goes to one aspect of that conduct … but we had brought to the court’s attention many, many other instances of that conduct — threats of retaliation in terms of firing, monitoring communication with attorneys, threatening to call immigration.”
But overall, Dalmat was satisfied with the outcome of the criminal proceedings.
“I’m just glad that Chon has accepted responsibility for his conduct with respect to the court, and I hope he will, in short order, get responsibility with respect to conduct with employees.”
Barry Coburn of Coburn & Greenbaum, the law firm representing Chon, could not be reached for comment.