L.A. City Council candidate's former employees accused her business of wage theft

Eight years ago, restaurant worker Jose Higareda filed a wage complaint against the Caliente Cantina restaurant in San Pedro, telling state investigators he was not paid for

more than 100 hours of work. Isaac Garcia, a chef who earned $10 per hour, testified that the same establishment failed to pay him $480 in 2014. Dishwasher and prep cook

Jose Flores Esqueda lodged yet another complaint, saying Caliente Cantina did not compensate him for $1,080 worth of work that same year. All three identified the

restaurant's owner as businesswoman Danielle Sandoval, according to filings in their wage cases, copies of which were reviewed by The Times. Two turned over a text message

exchange in which Sandoval, now a candidate for Los Angeles City Council, allegedly acknowledged that they were owed money. A third said he spoke with her directly. Sandoval

"kept giving excuses for not paying," according to testimony provided by Flores Esqueda in 2015, which was summarized in an order issued by the hearing officer in his case.

The hearing officer, acting on behalf of the state’s labor commissioner, found that the restaurant failed to pay the three workers, committing violations of the state labor

code that are commonly known as wage theft, said Paola Laverde, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Industrial Relations. Caliente Cantina is now closed, and Sandoval

is running in the Nov. 8 election to represent a district stretching from Watts to San Pedro. But the wage claims filed by those three workers, along with a fourth, are still

outstanding and have not been paid, Laverde said Thursday.