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Unpaid Claims Delay Liquor License Application

Stuart Mitchner

Borough Councilman Roger Martindell has called into question the sale of a liquor license because of an issue that, according to him, "illustrates a significant problem in the economy of the Princeton community: the illegal diversion of wages by employers from Princeton's service workers."

The licensee, Regato Holdings, LLC, operator of the former Les Copains restaurant on Witherspoon Street, applied to the Council to transfer the license to DMV Holdings, Inc. which owns Nassau Street Seafood and Produce Company and the Blue Point Grill.

Mr. Martindell, who as a lawyer had represented three former Les Copains employees in claims against the restaurant for unpaid wages and legally required overtime pay, recused himself from the Council vote on the license transfer, citing his earlier role as the employees' attorney.

However, he issued a statement calling for the Council, as a condition for approving the transfer, to set aside for its unpaid employees $15,000 of the more than $700,000 which he estimated that Regato Holdings, LLC, would receive as a result of the license transfer.

In his statement, Mr. Martindell pointed out that the Council's intervention was necessary to protect Latino workers "living at the subsistence level" because they have little recourse to legal assistance and cannot afford a lawsuit to press their claims.

Mr. Martindell said that when he first contacted Regato Holdings while acting as lawyer for the Les Copains employees and offering as evidence three pay checks that had bounced, he was told by a representative of the company that it was insolvent. The most the company would agree to set aside for its unpaid workers was $900.

The representative hourly wage paid the employees, Pedro Chavez, Frisley Chavez, and Jose Marroquin, was $9.75. Two of the three pay checks returned for lack of funds were made out simply to "Pedro" and "Frisley."

"It would be unconscionable for Borough government to approve the sale of a liquor license for more than $700,000 and not require the seller, as a condition of the approval, to first pay its subsistence level hourly employees, many of whom are Borough residents, their hard-earned wages," the Councilman said.

He urged Borough government to demand that a $15,000 escrow fund be created so that all Les Copains employees can be notified to make a claim for wages due during the next six months, after which any unclaimed funds would be returned to Regato Holdings.

Mr. Martindell also declared his intention to sponsor a Council resolution directing the Borough to prosecute local employers in municipal court for failure to pay hourly employees, as permitted by state law.

He ended his statement by informing the Council that he had resigned as the lawyer for the Les Copains employees and found alternate legal counsel for them so that he could bring the issue to public attention. In addition, he emphasized that DMV Holdings, Inc. has no connection to Regato Holdings and was not involved in Regato Holdings' failure to pay its workers.

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