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Man charged with wage theft for refusing to pay independent laborer; Case a first for Harris County

September 5, 2018 

Prosecutors filed the first ever wage theft case in Harris County against a local man who stiffed a self-employed independent contractor for $2,300.

Sonny D. Nicholas, 62, is charged with Theft of Service for the post-Harvey rip off of a house painter in April 2018.

“This is about treating people decently and obeying the law,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said.

“We follow the evidence, and we are not going to let employers rip off contractors, just as we won’t let contractors steal from the public.”

The defendant’s home is located in Southside Place, near West University.

After agreeing to pay the painter $3,000, Nicholas gave him a check for $500 to cover supplies, according to charging documents. The check bounced.

Although the Texas Legislature passed what was known as the Wage Theft Law in 2011, the statute has been used little by prosecutors statewide.

The statute establishes that employers commit a crime when they don’t pay workers for their time and service. Some employers have been known to try and take advantage of employees who they think fearful contacting authorities for help.

Victims of wage theft can contact organizations such as the AFL-CIO’s Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, the Worker Defense Fund and Fe y Justicia Worker Center.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office encourages wage-theft victims to report them to such groups, as well as police, so that offenders can be prosecuted.

With regard to Nicholas, after a few days of painting, he requested a substantial amount of additional work be done, but insisted he wanted it included in the original price, according to charging documents.

When the painter refused to do the additional work with no further compensation, Nicholas became upset and told him to leave.

The painter then asked for help from the Fe y Justicia Worker Center and the Southside Place Police Dept.

Nicholas was arrested Wednesday as he made a court appearance on unrelated criminal charges. He faces up to a year in jail a $4,000 fine, if convicted.