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Harris County prosecutors bring first wage theft case over Harvey paint job

September 7, 2018

Harris County prosecutors have filed their first-ever criminal wage theft case against a Houston homeowner for allegedly refusing to pay a self-employed independent contractor in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Sonny D. Nicholas, 62, has been charged with theft of service for not paying a man $2,300 for painting his house in Southside Place near West University, a residence appraised by the county at $1.5 million. The charge is a misdemeanor, and if convicted Nicholas faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Attempts to contact a Houston defense attorney representing Nicholas were not successful.

Nicholas agreed to pay the contractor $3,000 and wrote him a $500 deposit to cover the supplies. The check bounced, according to a press release from the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

After doing $2,300 worth of painting, Nicholas asked for more work to be done but said he wanted it included in the original price, according to the release. When the contractor refused to do the extra work without more compensation, Nicholas told him to leave.

This is Harris County’s first wage theft charge since the Texas Legislature passed the Wage Theft Law in 2011, according to the release. The law was meant to crack down on employers who only pay a portion of wages owed.

While previous Harris County district attorneys required a written contract, DA Kim Ogg only required a verbal agreement to prosecute for theft of service, said Valerie Turner, chief of the consumer fraud division for the DA office.

“We’re very proud to have filed this case because we want to emphasize to contractors, regardless of their legal status, that if they are not paid for their work to please make a police report with law enforcement,” she said.

Contractors can also contact the AFL-CIO’s Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, the Worker Defense Fund and Fe y Justicia Worker Center, Turner said.

Silvia Chicas, coordinator for the worker empowerment clinic at Fe y Justicia Worker Center, said the contractor is Latino and has been in Houston for several years.

Nicholas was arrested Wednesday, and according to jail records, remained in jail after his bail was set at $10,000.

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