A Merrick man and his East Hills cousin avoided jail time yesterday after they pleaded guilty to falsifying business records and failing to pay minimum wages or overtime to 72 employees at their East Meadow diner, among other crimes.
However, Tassos Strifas, 42, of Merrick, and George Strifas, 47, of East Hills, will have to pay about $565,000 in wages, damages, back taxes and fines.
Valarie Alexander, a Nassau County District Court judge, sentenced the two men on Nov. 14 to a three-year conditional discharge and ordered them to pay about $338,000 to their employees and about $64,000 in back taxes and fines. Shams Tarek, a spokesman for Kathleen Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, said that in January a federal court also ordered them to pay about $164,000 in damages.
The Strifas cousins, who co-own the Colony Diner in East Meadow, pleaded guilty in April to felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, falsifying business records in the first degree and one misdemeanor count of failing to pay wages in accordance with the New York State Labor Law. At the time, the Nassau DA’s Office said in a statement that the pair faced up to four years in prison.
The plea deal resulted from a joint investigation among the DA’s Office’s Labor Unit, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, and the New York State Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance Division. The investigation, which began in 2011, determined that between January 2009 and November 2011, the Colony Diner’s wait staff was paid about $2 or less per hour, the bussing staff was paid off-the-books from the wait staff’s cash tips, and kitchen staff was not paid overtime, despite working 50 to 60 hours per week.
State and federal law at the time of the violations mandated minimum wages of $4.65 for wait staff, $7.25 for bussing and kitchen staff, and $10.75 per overtime hour worked.
A search warrant executed at the diner in November 2011 revealed falsified documents and a second set of books, which detailed the true pay rate and hours that the diner’s employees worked. Records indicated the diner claimed on tax returns to have between 11 and 15 employees. In reality, between 35 and 40 people worked there on any given week.
“Labor laws exist to ensure that hard-working employees are paid every penny of their wages, as well as hold accountable unscrupulous bosses who steal from their workers,” Rice said in April. “I thank the federal and New York state departments of labor for their invaluable assistance on this case, and we will continue to work together to protect the workforce from exploitation.”