Long Island gas station workers win $285K in wage theft legal battle against ex-owner
They got gassed — and now they’re getting paid.
Twenty-three former gas station workers are splitting a $285,000 payout from the businesses of a Long Island gas king as part of a legal ordeal in which he admitted bilking them out of overtime and the minimum wage.
The money is a portion of a $2.2 million settlement a federal judge ordered Steven Keshtgar and his underlings to pay two years ago. The payments started flowing to his victims in August through bankruptcy court settlements.
Keshtgar, who lives in Brightwaters, made his cashiers clock 36-hour shifts, illegally docked their pay and forced them to live in a two-family Central Islip home packed with more than a dozen workers at a time, court filings showed.
Shiva Baniya, 38, said he lived in the suburban work-camp hovel for four years, toiling seven-day weeks and sleeping in shifts with a gas station attendant co-worker with whom he shared a bunk.
“We were being trapped,” said Baniya, who immigrated to the U.S. from Nepal in 2011. “We didn’t know anything about the laws at that time. We were feeling kind of helpless.”
It is unclear how many gas stations Keshtgar currently owns. As of 2015, it was 24 throughout Long Island — with each pulling in about $500,000 a year, according to the complaint filed by Baniya and his co-plaintiffs. Keshtgar had reportedly filed for federal bankruptcy court protection for most of his stations in late 2014 after some financial setbacks.
To maximize his earnings, Keshtgar would drag his feet in coughing up their wages, forbade them from taking lunch breaks and deducted the value of missing or broken merchandise from paychecks, the filings showed.
A federal Labor Department probe into his fuel fiefdom ended in a 2007 consent decree in which a federal judge ordered Keshtgar and his brother Frank to cough up back wages and penalties totaling nearly $100,000.
Baniya and his comrades-in-misery began to fight back in 2015 after some of Keshtgar’s gas stations began shutting down. They approached Adhikaar, a Queens-based social justice group dedicated to the Nepali community.
“Some of them already lost their jobs and weren’t able to get their money,” said Narbada Chhetri, the group’s programs director. “I connected them with Legal Aid.”
Legal Aid Society lawyer Richard Blum took on their case.
“Keshtgar represents the epitome of scofflaw employers who prioritize their own financial gain over the workers who enrich them,” he told the Daily News. “It has taken years of effort to obtain even as much as we have through the bankruptcy process, and Keshtgar is continuing to live an expensive lifestyle without paying the judgment he owes.”
Repeated attempts to reach Keshtgar were unsuccessful.