ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division found 89 employees at Red Mesa Restaurant and Red Mesa Cantina in St. Petersburg lost out on tens of thousands of dollars worth of pay after their employer withheld tips to pay for customers who didn’t pay their bills, illegally charged for uniforms, and didn’t pay minimum wage or full overtime for some workers.

“Servers are one of the lowest paid people in the nation, as far as the wages per hour,” said Nicolas Ratmiroff. “Because of that, we got to make sure that they are receiving all of the entitlement of their pay.”

As a result of the labor law violations, Red Mesa had to pay $190,730 in back wages and liquidated damages to the employees, then provide a sworn statement and proof of the payment to the Wage and Hour Division, the department said.

According to a department press release, the withheld tips ranged from $10 to $175 per day. Overtime violations arose when employees worked at Red Mesa Restaurant and Red Mesa Cantina in the same workweek, but the restaurants didn’t combine the hours, resulting in less overtime. The kitchen staff was paid straight time no matter how much they worked, the press release also stated.

Red Mesa Restaurant in St. Petersburg. (WFLA)

Nicolas Ratmiroff is the Wage and Hour District Director in Tampa. He said the back pay and damages wrap up the investigation since this is a first-time offense for Red Mesa. There are fines or other penalties.

“Sometimes we get to talk to the workers who tell us that that helped a lot with the rent,” Ratmiroff said. “Or the kids, or the school, or those kind of things.”

While Ratmiroff couldn’t say how the Department of Labor started the investigation, he did say Red Mesa’s violations aren’t unique.

“In the past, the minimum wage for a server was a lot lower than it is currently because of the changes of the law,” Ratmiroff said. “So historically, it’s an industry we have checked a lot.”

In a statement to 8 On Your Side, Red Mesa said the following:

We were extremely distressed to learn about this situation in 2021, and have aggressively taken far-reaching steps to make sure something like this never happens again. As part of this never happens again. As part of this process, we terminated the outside firm that had handled this part of Red Mesa’s business. As a family-owned, local business, we know we would never succeed without our high-quality employees. We want our employees to know they are being treated fairly every day.

Peter Veytia III, Red Mesa Inc owner and operator

Ratmiroff said it is usually a pleasant surprise for those who got a check in the mail.

“And most employees, in this case, 89 people,” Ratmiroff said. “Are probably going to be extremely surprised because they had no idea.”

However, Red Mesa wasn’t able to find 13 of those 89 employees. So, the employer paid the Wage and Hour Division the $7,472 it still owed, and now the division will try to locate the workers and return the money.

If you think you are owed wages that were found during an investigation, you can check here.

If you’d like to file a complaint or ask a question as an employee or employer, you can reach out to the Wage and Hour Division here.