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2 Oklahoma companies in trafficking lawsuit settle pay claim

OKLAHOMA CITY - Two Oklahoma companies accused in a federal human trafficking lawsuit of underpaying immigrant workers have reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor.

A Jan. 25 order from a department Wage and Hour Division administrative law judge shows Hotelmacher and Steakmacher, both of Clinton, will pay more than $31,500, including nearly $16,200 to immigrants who were in the U.S. in 2012 on work visas.

The companies do not acknowledge any violations, but agreed to make the payment “as a good faith effort with the Administrator concerning the alleged violations,” according to the order. It was not immediately clear if the workers who were expected receive payments as part of the Department of Labor settlement were still in the U.S.

Meanwhile, two separate human trafficking lawsuits allege company owners Walter Schumacher and his wife, Carolyn Schumacher, lured the immigrants to the U.S., then paid substandard wages at two hotels, a water park and Montana Mike’s steakhouse. Steakmacher has since sold Montana Mike’s and the company now operating the restaurant is not involved in the litigation.

The ongoing lawsuits come amid a national debate over immigrants in the U.S. and whether a wall should be built along the Mexican border.

Separate motions to dismiss the lawsuits were denied Tuesday by a federal judge in Oklahoma City and Equal Justice Center attorney Chris Willett, who represents the immigrants, said the settlement with the Labor Department does not affect the legal action.

An attorney for the Schumachers did not return phone calls seeking comment but has previously said the couple denies all allegations.

The first lawsuit was filed by three Filipino residents who came to the U.S. on temporary work visas, the second by three Jamaican nationals who came on student work visas.

Both lawsuits were filed as class action complaints.

Kent Felty, an immigration attorney in Denver who successfully sued the John Pickle Company in Tulsa and Falcon Steel Structures, Inc., in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over claims similar to the allegations against the Schumachers said in an August interview that jury selection for the lawsuit would be problematic, given the current national debate.

“Half the country would give them a million dollars on a thousand-dollar case, and half the country would like to see them deported,” said Felty, who is not involved in the current Oklahoma lawsuits.

Felty said none of judgment in the Pickle case was paid while the Falcon case was settled for an undisclosed sum.
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