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The U.S. Department of Labor has sued two Richfield groceries in an attempt to recover $508,000 in back wages and damages owed to 51 employees who were allegedly denied overtime pay.

The lawsuit names San Miguel Enterprises, which operates as La Vaquita-Short Stop at 7034 Cedar Av., and Jimenez Genao, which operates the La Vaquita-LV2 store at 607 East 77th St.

The lawsuit also names Mariela Jimenez, who co-owns and actively manages the two Mexican grocery stores. Jimenez, who goes by the name Donny and has a Rosemount office, declined to comment on the allegations.

According to the complaint filed late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, the grocery stores paid their workers an "artificially low" hourly rate in a scheme designed to make it appear the companies had paid their workers the proper overtime rate of 1.5 times their normal pay.

The stores also are accused of misclassifying certain workers as exempt from overtime rules, failing to preserve accurate payroll records and failing to pay the overtime rate when a "shared employee" worked more than 40 hours in a week between the two stores.

Department of Labor officials alleged the schemes were revealed during a Fair Labor Standards compliance check and subsequent investigations between July 2020 and March 2023.

Court records show the San Miguel La Vaquita store had 31 workers. The Jimenez La Vaquita-LV2 store had 26 workers. The two stores shared at least six workers, investigators found.

The final investigation reported workers were owed $254,209 in back wages plus another $254,209 in damages.

The investigation and lawsuit are the latest in a run of actions taken by local, state and federal governments to thwart the practice of wage theft.

Common complaints surround the denial of overtime pay and the misclassification of regular employees as independent contractors.

On Wednesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi filed a 16-count criminal complaint against Todd A. Konigson, alleging that his Stillwater Masonry Restoration business failed to pay his workers timely wages and to report $495,680 of their wages to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

Konigson could not be reached for comment.

A wage investigator from the County Attorney's Office began investigating Konigson's business while it performed work for the historic Masonic Temple in St. Paul, according to the complaint.

In a statement, Choi said his office is "committed to protecting victims of wage theft and holding bad employers accountable who fail to pay employees their hard-earned wages."

Brian Walsh, Minneapolis director of Labor Standards Enforcement, said the city has found minimum wage violations in the restaurant, retail and home care sectors. State investigators have found labor and wage abuses on numerous construction sites.