University News

Gourmet Heaven owner requests leniency in court

Regional grocery chain owner potentially faces five-year prison sentence for wage theft charges

By
Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The owner of Gourmet Heaven was arrested in February for multiple wage theft charges.

After his arrest in February on 42 felony and misdemeanor charges of wage theft, owner of Gourmet Heaven Chung Cho sat for a final hearing Nov. 3, the Yale Daily News reported.

The court heard his request for accelerated rehabilitation, which if granted would allow Cho to avoid a trial and prison sentence and erase his criminal record. The grocery chain Gourmet Heaven has two locations in Providence on Meeting Street and Weybosset Street in addition to its two New Haven stores.

Cho’s prison sentence could stretch as long as five years, said James Bhandary-Alexander, the lawyer representing five of the workers who are victims of alleged wage theft in the criminal case.

The February charges comprised violations of discrimination against workers, failure to keep wage records, charges of felony wage theft and misdemeanor counts of defrauding immigrant workers, The Herald reported at the time.

The Nov. 3 hearing in New Haven marked the second and final hearing before the judge must approve or deny Cho’s request for accelerated rehabilitation, Bhandary-Alexander said.

The complainants’ argument is that Cho’s alleged wage theft is too serious to go unpunished and that he is likely to offend again if not under close supervision, Bhandary-Alexander said.

Cho’s lawyer argues that his crimes are not serious because he paid workers what he had previously stolen — as much as a quarter million dollars, he said. He added that Cho’s lawyer also made statements about “how Mr. Cho brought New Haven back from the dead and made it a nice place to live.”

At the hearing, workers whom Bhandary-Alexander represents spoke out against Cho, claiming he fired them for cooperating with the Connecticut Department of Labor’s investigation, the YDN reported. Meanwhile, more than a dozen workers brought in by Cho’s lawyer praised their boss, sharing stories about how Cho gave them birthday gifts, treated them to meals at nearby restaurants and let them live in a house he owned without initially paying rent.

Bhandary-Alexander said the judge can deny Cho’s motion for accelerated rehabilitation if she finds that either the crime is too serious or that Cho is likely to reoffend. Bhandary-Alexander and his clients are arguing the judge should not grant Cho accelerated rehabilitation due to the importance of his record stating his wrongdoing and the seriousness of wage theft as a crime.

Mohamed Masaud, manager of Gourmet Heaven on Weybosset Street in Providence, said the Providence locations were not affected by the events in New Haven because there have been no violations in these locations. “We have already interviewed every employee with the Department of Labor, and none of us has any problem here. Everyone follows the minimum wage law,” he added.

But Bhandary-Alexander said he finds it “inconceivable that there were massive violations in the Connecticut locations and not at the Rhode Island locations,” adding that “The odds of that I would put at about one in a thousand.”

Even if the Providence locations are complying with the law now when under a microscope, “what were they doing a year ago?” he asked.

Evelyn Nunez, president of MEChA de Yale, a Yale student social justice group, has been a key figure in leading student protests against Gourmet Heaven. The protests brought attention to Cho’s alleged crimes and led Yale administrators to terminate Gourmet Heaven’s lease in its location near campus once it expires in June 2015, the YDN reported.

“Given the fact that Gourmet Heaven was a location so close to campus, we thought it was imperative for students to get involved, as they had a direct stake in what was happening there,” Nunez said. Students made up the largest customer base at Gourmet Heaven and had a choice of whether or not to frequent the business in light of Cho’s alleged criminal activity, she added.

While some have protested against Cho, others have remained loyal to him and his business. A petition in support of Gourmet Heaven remaining in business has garnered more than 2,000 signatures from Yale students and community members, the YDN reported.

“It doesn’t really reflect the actual attitude of the customers,” Nunez said of the petition. “If people were signing that petition, they probably don’t really know what’s going on.”

Nunez urged Brown students to engage in a similar protest if it becomes clear that Gourmet Heaven workers’ rights were similarly violated in Providence. “The students at Brown also have a stake in what’s happening, and they can show solidarity with the workers if they bring forward this complaint,” she said. “Students should act as allies of any employee in any area who would want to bring forward wage theft allegations.”

  • Chris Barnabei

    Gourmet Heaven is clean, screw all of you.