Two Nassau sushi restaurants and an executive have agreed to pay more than $288,000 to settle federal charges that they "willfully" failed to pay 70 workers minimum wage and overtime, the U.S. Labor Department said.

Xaga Sushi in Merrick and Hewlett, and their president, Mei Yu Zhang, agreed to pay $261,887 in back wages and $26,322 in penalties, the Labor Department announced Monday.

The department contends the restaurants failed to pay the servers, busboys and kitchen staff overtime, even when some employees regularly worked as many as 50 hours a week. Instead, they were paid a flat monthly rate no matter how many hours they worked, the department said.

The restaurants' failure to pay them overtime dropped their pay below the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, the department said. Employees covered by federal minimum-wage and overtime laws must be paid at least 11/2 times their regular hourly wage they when they work more than 40 hours a week.

The department also said the restaurants operated an "illegal tip pool" in which tipped employees were forced to share their tips with the kitchen staff.

The defendants have violated labor laws since Dec. 1, 2010, the department said.

But Samantha Chan, the restaurants' accountant, said the eateries have been in compliance since Dec. 15 of last year. And she said they made an innocent mistake.

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"It was a mistake that was done unintentionally because they weren't familiar with the Labor Department laws," Chan said.

The businesses were investigated as part of a multiyear restaurant initiative conducted by the department's Westbury office. The department filed a complaint in August in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.

Irv Miljoner, who heads the local office, said wage violators undercut "those employers who choose to obey the law and pay their workers properly."

 

Editor's note: A previous caption on the image accompanying this story misidentified the location of the restaurant.