COVER-UP AND FRAUD ALLEGATIONS
After two years of protests, a boycott and a $4.6 million judgment in a civil suit against them, things got even worse last week for the owners of Saigon Grill: they were arrested. On Dec. 3, Simon and Michelle Nget were arraigned on more than 400 charges, including counts of falsified business records, defrauding the state's unemployment insurance and violations against workers that included demanding fines, violating minimum wage laws and creating a false paper trail to conceal these actions. At press time, the Ngets were out on bail, and no court date had been set. Last week, the Ngets pleaded not guilty to the charges. According to a press release from the Attorney General's office, evidence for the case came from a state investigation during which the Ngets provided documents that led officials to the alleged improprieties. In a statement last week, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said: "These workers allowed the business to thrive, and in exchange they were allegedly cheated out of wages, fined for ridiculous reasons, intimidated out of pursuing justice and then pulled into a painstaking ploy to cover it all up." Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, a crucial public supporter of the workers throughout the ordeal, was also critical of the Ngets. "Their despicable and illegal treatment of earnest and hardworking deliverymen will hopefully result in a long prison sentence for their criminal behavior," she said of the Ngets in a statement. Although the Ngets and their lawyer, S. Michael Weisberg have refused to comment to the press, courtroom reports have quoted Weisberg as saying that the workers were extorting his client and that the Ngets and their counsel were outnumbered in the courtroom. Organizers credit community activists and officials like Rosenthal with bringing attention to the issue. "All the community support has definitely pushed the government to do something," said Josephine Lee, who has worked with the Saigon Grill delivery staff throughout the whole process. She added that she hoped other businesses would settle labor disputes to avoid the Ngets' fate. "It's put the bosses on notice," she said. Meanwhile, the Uptown branch of the eatery, at 90th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, remains open and bustling-as it has throughout the protests, lawsuits and boycotts. Reviewers on the popular site Menupages have engaged in a lively discussion about the restaurant's troubles, expressing sympathy for the workers-and praise for noodles that are "too good to boycott." "I adore this place. I love the food. I do not adore the myriad employment laws that have been violated," wrote one commenter two days after the arrests. Bernadette Evangelist is one Upper West Side activist who did take up the boycott. She helped spread the world through her local Democratic club and a group called Democracy Free NYC and attended many of the protests. "I hope the presence of neighborhood people made an impact," she said.
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