Senor Tequila owner pleads guilty in false back-pay scheme involving employees

The owner of Senor Tequila Mexican Restaurants pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to lying to the Department of Labor about paying back wages to employees who were not getting proper minimum wage for two years, according to officials.

Jose Jamie Villalpando, aka Jamie Villapondo, 48, of Charleston, is charged with making a false statement. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor found during an investigation that Senor Tequila restaurants failed to pay seven employees a total of $106,103.05 in minimum wage and overtime pay from July 28, 2008, to July 19, 2010, the release states.

There are three Senior Tequila restaurants in the Lowcountry, according to its website: West Ashley, Mount Pleasant and North Charleston. Villalpando could not immediately be reached for comment.

After the investigation, Villalpando agreed to pay the employees back wages, but instead of paying all of what he owed, authorities say he devised and executed a scheme in 2011 to avoid the payments to three employees, in the amount of $76,575.92.

He wrote the three employees checks and had them deposit the money into their respective bank accounts, but over the next several weeks made them give the money back to him by withdrawing smaller increments and giving him the cash, according to the release.

Villalpando mailed letters to the Department of Labor stating that he paid the three employees, and he attached copies of the canceled back wages paychecks in an attempt to show that he had in fact paid the employees.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.