Ex-restaurateur fined $12K for illegal workers

A former Winnipeg restaurant owner has been ordered to pay $12,000 in donations to two local charities for illegally employing immigrants from Korea.

A former Winnipeg restaurant owner has been ordered to pay $12,000 in donations to two local charities for employing immigrants without proper work permits.

Jung Won Choi, who operated two sushi restaurants — including Kenko Sushi on Corydon Avenue — had been convicted in 2010 of illegally employing immigrants from Korea.

He admitted to illegally employing six people from 2008-2009. Court also found Jung was paying the workers below minimum Canadian wages.

But Choi's lawyer, Ken Zaifman, stressed that Choi's workers were not mistreated.

"Mr. Choi did not retain their documents, did not house them where he controlled their movements, did not have them work exceedingly long hours," Zaifman told CBC News.

On Tuesday, Choi was ordered to pay fines of $6,000 each to Welcome Place and the Immigrant Centre, two organizations that work with newcomers to Canada and Manitoba.

He is also required to complete 50 hours of community service work, and will be on probation for nine months.

Consultant's advice blamed

Linda Lalande, the executive director at the Immigrant Centre, said many workers and employees do not understand the system.

"That happens often, because they're not aware of the services," she said. "Maybe even the gentleman who owned the restaurant was given the wrong information; I'm not sure."

Both Zaifman and provincial court Judge Mary Kate Harvie suggested on Tuesday that Choi may have received bad advice from an immigration consultant who did the paperwork for the permits.

"There was nothing that the consultant provided to Mr. Choi in writing which clearly set out that an employee needs permission to work, and if they don't have that permission, they shouldn't work," Zaifman said.

But the consultant in question, Jennifer Choi of Arche Consulting, said she was clear with the restaurateur and the workers at every step.

"You have to have a work permit in order to work," Choi said. "No volunteer work, no training, no money, doesn't matter — if you work there, it's against the law. So they already knew."

Jennifer Choi, who is not related to the ex-restaurateur, acknowledged that she should have put everything in writing.