STK - Money Gavel

SALT LAKE CITY — A Cache County restaurant owner pleaded guilty to a charge alleging he failed to pay proper wages to employees and forged checks.

Justin Hamilton, a 40-year-old Logan resident, pleaded guilty Thursday morning to one felony count of obstruction of proceedings before departments and agencies, a charge that could carry a potential penalty of up to five years in a federal prison and potential fine of up to $250,000.

Hamilton is a co-owner of the Cafe Sabor franchise of restaurants, with Utah locations in Layton, Logan, St. George and Garden City. Cafe Sabor restaurants are also located in Island Park and Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Hamilton first fell under federal scrutiny when the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division began investigating the restaurant’s Garden City location in October 2016 after systematic wage and hour violations were found. Later, the locations in Layton and Logan were also investigated, according to information filed in the case.

In February 2017, Hamilton agreed to pay back all wages, which totaled over $125,000, before the end of July the same year.

Federal investigators say that between Sept. 1-11, 2017, Hamilton sent several emails to the Wage and Hour Division office in Salt Lake City showing copies of checks he made to workers that were owed back pay. However, when the office attempted to verify with the workers if they had received the money, it was revealed that some employees were not paid and the checks submitted to the department had been forged, according to charging documents.

On Thursday, Hamilton pleaded guilty to the single charge at the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

Hamilton’s next court appearance will be for his sentencing, which is scheduled to take place on Sept. 11 at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City.

Jacob Scholl is the Cops and Courts Reporter for the Standard-Examiner. Email him at jscholl@standard.net and follow him on Twitter at @Jacob_Scholl.

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