Like many struggling workers, Mr. José Ucelo Gonzalez looks for work every day at the Home Depot by Brookhurst Ave. and the interstate 5 fwy in Anaheim.
On March 9th, 2012, Mr. Ucelo accepted a job offer by Michael Tebb; owner of M.T Asphalt, an Anaheim based company. The agreement was $10 an hour.
After a hard 10-hour day work, Mr. Ucelo tried to collect his salary, but instead he got verbally abused and challenged to a fistfight by his employer. Mr. Ucelo remained calm and tried to deescalate the situation, but the harassment continued. Tebb accused his employee of robbery and threatened to call the police if he insisted on asking for his pay. The contractor got in his truck and left. Mr. Ucelo called 911 to ask for assistance but before he could give his location to the operator, Tebb returned escorted by several Garden Grove police patrol cars. One officer threw Mr. Ucelo to the ground and kept him there for a while before informing him he was being arrested and charged with theft. He was booked at the local jail and later transferred to the county jail where under the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program his fingerprints were submitted to immigration databases resulting in a detainer against him issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The theft charges couldn’t be proven and were dropped eventually, but Mr. Ucelo remained in custody of ICE facing deportation.
His family and friends were able to raise $3,000 within days to pay his bail, but the removal process had already been set in motion.
On September 15th, 2012, Mr. Ucelo, his attorney Jessica Karp, fellow workers, students, activists, and members of NDLON and Colectivo Tonantzin, congregated outside the house of Michael Tebb to serve a summons for a lawsuit against him which contended that he falsely accused Mr. Ucelo of theft in order to avoid paying his wage.
Mr. José Ucelo gave The Rebel Press an exclusive interview at his house in Hawaiian Gardens one day after the action.
Update: Mr. Ucelo’s deportation case was closed recently. ICE granted prosecutorial discretion and he no longer faces imminent deportation. His case against Michael Tebb was also won. The Anaheim serial wage thief will have to pay the owed wages and some damages and prejudices.