Raids on Stores, Homes of Sacramento Councilmember Linked to Federal Lawsuit and Human Trafficking Claims

By Crescenzo Vellucci Jr.

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO, CA – Federal agents late last week raided three Sacramento-area Viva Supermarkets owned by Sacramento City Councilmember Sean Loloee—and his home in Hagginwood, his wife’s house in Granite Bay and his Natomas office—allegedly for withholding wages and other labor violations in a story The Vanguard broke about four years ago.

Loloee, who represents North Sacramento on the Sacramento City Council, said the criminal investigation is part of a federal lawsuit alleging forced labor of his employees and allegations he threatened deportation if employees cooperate with investigators.

The Vanguard first reported Loloee’s problems in 2020, when labor demonstrators charged Loloee with labor law violations—including “human trafficking” —when he first ran for office. See:

Labor leaders told The Vanguard in 2020 Loloee’s employee abuse “falls into the human labor trafficking category” because employees “report working up to 100 hours a week at minimum wage, without overtime, vacation time, sick leave or workman’s comp under two different social security numbers assigned by Loloee and Loloee’s General Manager.”

Loloee was described to The Vanguard in 2020 by labor activists as “as a tyrant by employees; never smiling. Employees report sexual harassment and threats. Workplace injuries include burns, falls; one woman remains in a coma after a fall. Employees report an increase in stress levels, including blood pressure levels, due to their work environment.”

A federal lawsuit said workers have been “subjected” to years of “forced labor and exploitation,” including an 18-year-old employee who was “required to sell alcohol and cigarettes.”

In the class action lawsuit provided to The Vanguard, the plaintiffs cited the causes of action for “overtime wages, meal and rest period premiums, wage statement violations, waiting time penalties, failure to reimburse expenses, and unfair competition under the California Labor Code and Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Orders.”

The complaint alleges workers in the class action, over the past four years, regularly worked at Viva Supermarkets more than eight hours a day and 40 hours a week—but defendant did not add the total numbers worked at each of the stores and failed to pay overtime wages.

The pleading also alleges employees were not able to take all meal and rest breaks, were required to wear uniforms and then deducted the uniform charge from their wages when they began work, and also when the employees returned their uniforms when they left the employ of Viva Supermarkets.

U.S. Dept. of Labor officials, in a federal court filing Thursday, said Loloee “threatened workers at his Viva Supermarket chain by saying he would report to immigration authorities those individuals that lacked legal status in the U.S. 

The lawsuit included allegations dating back to 2009 that Loloee underpaid employees, employed minors in hazardous occupations, and interfered with multiple federal investigations,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

After the raids this week, Loloee said he won’t run for office in 2024, but is resisting stepping down for now, telling CBS13 News, “No, I will not step down. I am here. I’m not going anywhere. I will fight for my district and the business will go on.”

“Do you have legal, non-U.S. citizens working at your businesses and has it ever come up where if they feel like they don’t continue working there, they could lose their status?” CBS13 News asked Loloee, who answered, “Absolutely not. Our associates, I have nothing but the deepest respect for all of them.”

But civil rights attorney and former public defender Mark Reichel noted to The Bee that, while it may take “three to six months,” these kind of federal raids usually lead to criminal charges.

“To see a criminal raid like that, I rarely see them not bring criminal charges,” said Reichel, suggesting, said The Bee, “the presence of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security…indicates the topic of the raid could have been forced labor — a high priority of the agency in recent years.”

Reichel added forced labor could include “situations by which employees would like to leave their jobs but feel like they cannot, due to coercion, duress, threats of harm or threats of deportation (and the) presence of ICE at the Rancho Cordova store could indicate allegations that employees were undocumented, or are working longer hours than their green cards allow,” wrote the Bee.

The Sacramento Central Labor Council noted on X, formerly known as Twitter, the past accusations of labor violations by Loloee, including an interaction between the council and supermarket employees “who provided shocking details of repeated labor violations.”

“The very foundation of our democracy is built on the principles of transparency, accountability and the upholding of the law. As public servants, elected officials are entrusted with the responsibility to serve as examples of ethical conduct and integrity in their professional and personal lives,” the letter read. 

“We believe that, given the gravity of these allegations, your persistent legal troubles, and their potential impact on the residents and workers of Sacramento, especially those in District 2, it is in the best interest of both your constituents and the principles of ethical governance that you immediately resign from your position as Councilmember,” said the SCLC.

News reports this week indicated Loloee met with investigators this past June to discuss the “missing production” of documents requested by the acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su, according to the Thursday filing. While Loloee turned over thousands of additional pages, the new court filing stated that the “production in response to the Acting Secretary’s first set of document requests remained deficient.”

Loloee has told investigators that “he had failed to produce certain documents and destroyed data relevant to this investigation,” stated the court filing from Eduard Meleshinsky, DOL solicitor.

He had a deadline to provide additional documents by Oct. 21, but failed to do that and the raid happened about five days later.  

Loloee is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Thursday filing stated, referencing a number of federal labor laws, including the right to overtime, and a minimum wage.

Federal officials claim Loloee has not produced discovery as promised. Loloee denied this.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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