Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- You work and expect to get paid but what happens when you don't? Many people turn to the state Labor Commissioner to help track down their money. So why are some in the Valley waiting years to collect the cash they earned? When You Ask. We Investigate.
He may not have scrubs, a stethoscope or a medical license but "Doctor" Peter Lu's culinary skills quickly earned him the title of physician for ailing restaurants.
"I've been doing that for 40 some years," said Peter.
Back in the mid 80's, Peter helped put on banquets for the Denver Broncos and Nuggets. When an opportunity came up to move to Southern Nevada, he landed at a Henderson Chinese restaurant. Peter says he was told Cook on Wok on Eastern near Horizon Ridge needed a boost in business and gave him a tall order with a big potential commission.
"If you can make this business growing he would give it to me 50/50," explained Peter.
So Peter hit the streets evaluating other restaurants, scouring their menus, delivery services, and soon he says Cook on Wok saw more money coming in the door. But Peter says none of that went back in his pocket. He worked from August 2011 to February 2012 and didn't get paid.
"I'm the one doing delivery, answer the phone," said Peter.
Fed up, Peter quit Cook on Wok and filed a complaint with the Office of the Labor Commission. In May 2012 the State found Cook on Wok's owner owed Peter more than $18,000 in back wages, including fines and fees. But to this day, he hasn't seen a dime from the restaurant.
"Why they don't pay me?" wondered Peter.
The restaurant is now closed and another business is in its place.
"I wish I can get the money as soon as possible," said Peter.
Wishes aren't bringing him money, but he's hoping the State Controller's office will. His case has been turned over to them for collection. Peter isn't alone. Contact 13 learned the Controller's Office has more than 1,000 cases of similar stories from different businesses.
"Can you appreciate the frustration that these people are feeling," asked Chief Investigator Darcy Spears.
"I really can, I really can," said Kim Wallin, Nevada's State Controller.
Wallin says the Labor Commissioner is partly to blame.
"In the previous Commissioner's experience he just felt that the employees can go and collect the debts and not have the state help them," said Wallin.
But that's not the case now. Wallin says the new Labor Commissioner is finally turning over debts that are more than 100 days old. With help from collection agencies, her office is starting to track employees down. With the newly reinstated Assistant Controller position, her department can do what's called financial date matching.
That means the Controller's Office will be able to check with banks throughout the state to see if employers have either personal or business accounts. If they do, the state has the authority to withdraw money those employers owe without having to tell them.
But let's say the employer isn't keeping much cash in banks. Another law soon to take effect will stop them from doing business, preventing employers from renewing a professional or occupational license with the State until they pay up. Even so, Wallin admits there's still room for improvement.
"Some states have gone as far as saying well if you we a debt to the state we will not renew your driver's license. We will not give you your fishing license or hunting license. We have not gone that far yet," said Wallin.
While garnishing someone's wages seems like a quick fix, Wallin says it isn't usually successful since business owner often don't give themselves a paycheck. That means there's nothing to garnish.
Unable to make his rent payments anymore, Peter is looking for work out of state, struggling to make ends meet and wondering why the Labor Commission's ruling doesn't seem to be worth the paper it's printed out.
We tried reaching out to the then owner of Cook on Wok but couldn't find a working number or a verifiable address. We'll keep in touch with Peter to see if the Controller's Office tracks them down and he gets the $18,000 he's owed.
Are you in a similar situation? If so, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include your phone number.
Peter worked at the Cook on Wok on Eastern near Horizon Ridge which is now closed. We want to point out there are other Cook on Wok restaurants throughout the Valley which are individually owned and operated but they have no connection to this story.