Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed a civil lawsuit on Feb. 20 against a family of companies and their officers for failing to pay over $200,000 in prevailing wages and taxes on a project at the Orange County Fairgrounds. AWI Builders, Inc. (AWI), Construction Contractors Corporation (CCC), TOSC Inc., Zhirayr “Robert” Mekikyan, Anna Mekikyan, and Tigran Oganesian are named as defendants.
In Aug. 2013, AWI was awarded a $10.3 million contract to construct a new lobby and entrance to the Pacific Amphitheatre at the Orange County Fairgrounds for the Orange County Fair Project. In the contract, AWI agreed to pay prevailing wages and keep proper payroll records.
AWI and CCC are owned by the Mekikyans, a husband and wife who operate the companies in a shared space with the same employees and operations in Pico Rivera. TOSC, Inc. also shares space and employees with AWI and CCC, but is owned by Oganesian, Robert’s family member.
The defendants are accused of failing to pay close to $200,000 in prevailing wages, including overtime, to workers on the OC Fair Project. AWI is further accused of over 2,000 violations for false entries on weekly payroll reports, including fake payroll checks and a second set of reporting books to cover up fraud.
The defendants are also accused of failing to report several workers’ wages to the California Employment Development Department for many of these workers to state authorities in order to evade state payroll taxes.
In an attempt to cover up their unlawful practices, the defendants are accused of submitting fraudulent payroll reports under penalty of perjury, fake checks, and other forged documents to the OC Fair Project administrators and state agents.
In numerous entries, AWI is accused of reporting paying prevailing wages of approximately $50 per hour when workers were paid less than $20 per hour. Although workers were asked to work overtime and during weekends and holidays at times, AWI is accused of failing to accurately report the overtime hours or pay the prevailing overtime wages earned by their workers.
The defendants are accused of forging and submitting three apprenticeship certificates, even though none of the three ironworkers were certified apprentices from any recognized apprenticeship organization, in a deceitful attempt to comply with the applicable apprenticeship standards.
One or more workers reported being threatened with their job, or deportation, if they reported the unlawful practices to authorities.
AWI is accused of engaging in unfair business practices in violation of public policy by underbidding a public works project, exhibiting conduct that was knowing and intentional and in complete disregard of the law and public policy. This conduct harmed competing workers and businesses that comply with the law.
The Mekikyans and Oganesian, as the principal controlling officers of the corporate defendants, had an obligation and duty to ensure that their companies complied with all such laws, but failed to prevent the violations and knowingly encouraged the unlawful activity to continue. The defendants’ failure to comply with the law constitutes unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices.
The illegal practices were reported to the OCDA by an ironworkers union. The OCDA Bureau of Investigation investigated this case.
Civil penalties the people seek
-Civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation to the maximum extent permitted by law for the defendants’ violations in relation to the OC Fair Project from Aug. 2013 to the present date
-All appropriate injunctive relief pursuant to Business and Professions Code Section 17203 to prevent any further unlawful activity and any applicable restitution in an amount to be determined at trial