Quilt shop owner is sentenced for labor violation

Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Fairbanks quilt shop owner has been given a suspended imposition of sentence after pleading no contest to charges she broke child-labor and minimum wage laws.

Mary J. Bruso, 46, owner of the Polar Bear Quilt Shop, was charged with employing a 16-year-old girl without a work permit in 1999 and 2000 and with paying the girl $5 an hour under the table. Federal minimum wage at the time was $5.15 an hour.

Bruso faced a total of 17 misdemeanor charges alleging that she broke child labor and minimum wage laws, failed to keep accurate and complete business records and lied to a Department of Labor investigator.

On Friday she agreed to plead no contest to one count of employing a minor without authorization. The other 16 counts against her were dismissed.

Bruso was given a one-year suspended imposition of sentence, meaning she will be on probation for a year and will receive no further sentence provided that during that time she does not commit an offense that calls for imprisonment. She must also perform 100 hours of community service work.

According to Chief of Labor Standards, Randy Carr, the criminal charges against Bruso came about as a last resort after a series of failed attempts to get her to pay back wages to the employee.

''She refused for about nine months of our attempts to get this thing resolved,'' Carr said in a September interview.

According to Carr, the department asked Bruso to pay the girl $300 in back pay, then took Bruso to small claims court when she refused. Bruso then requested the case be moved to District Court.

Assistant Attorney General Randy Olsen said the case was forwarded to the district attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

Olsen said criminal prosecution in such cases is generally rare. But he noted that Bruso was charged with multiple violations as well as lying to the Department of Labor and had failed to take advantage of multiple opportunities to pay up.

''There was just a recognition that she had been given lots of chances,'' Olsen said. ''I think it's fair to say if she had dealt with it differently earlier, she wouldn't have been referred.''

Olsen said Bruso did eventually pay the back wages and penalties totaling $1,500.

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