Owner of Bay Area construction firm admits to fraud, money laundering

The owner of a Bay Area construction firm admitted to committing felony workers' compensation insurance fraud after years of firing employees when they requested medical treatment for work-related injuries, Santa Clara County prosecutors said.

Man Tat Szeto, 71, of San Ramon, was also charged with unemployment insurance tax fraud and money laundering.

Szeto agreed to a plea deal with the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, which announced the agreement Wednesday after a two-year investigation performed in coordination with the California Department of Insurance and the state's Department of Industrial Relations.

The agreement requires that Szeto be placed on five years of formal probation, serve nine months in county jail and make restitution of approximately $250,000.

"When unscrupulous employers refuse to pay fair hourly wages, cheat on taxes, and cover-up workplace injuries, they exploit vulnerable individuals as well as our community which must bear the cost of illegality," Deputy District Attorney Mattia Corsiglia said.

Investigators found that employees who frequently worked upwards of 70 hours a week would be paid for only 40 hours. In addition, when an employee injured himself, rather than file an appropriate claim with the employee's insurance company and risk an increase in premium, Szeto simply handed them cash and terminated them.

The Contractors State License Board brought the case to the attention of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office as a result of suspicious activity that occurred at a new residential construction project in San Jose, prosecutors said.