Law Enforcement, Litigation, News

Merced Contractors in Pregnant Farmworker’s Death among California’s Top Tax Debtors

From MercedSunStar.com, Carol Reiter, 15 Apr 2011.


AP - Merced Farm Labor safety coordinator Elias Armenta, right, and company owner Maria De Los Angeles Colunga, center, sit with attorney Randy Thomas during sentencing in Stockton, Calif., Wednesday, March 9, 2011. The two California farm supervisors charged in the 2008 heat-related death of a pregnant teen farmworker Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, reached a plea deal Wednesday that sentenced them to community service and probation, angering farm worker advocates who had called for jail time. (AP Photo/ Marcio Jose Sanchez, Pool) Read more: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/2011/04/15/1853501/merced-contractors-in-pregnant.html#ixzz1Je3V3MeU

AP - Merced Farm Labor safety coordinator Elias Armenta, right, and company owner Maria De Los Angeles Colunga, center, sit with attorney Randy Thomas during sentencing in Stockton, Calif., Wednesday, March 9, 2011. The two California farm supervisors charged in the 2008 heat-related death of a pregnant teen farmworker Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, reached a plea deal Wednesday that sentenced them to community service and probation, angering farm worker advocates who had called for jail time. (AP Photo/ Marcio Jose Sanchez, Pool)

Barely a month after she was sentenced in a farmworker’s death, Maria De Los Angeles Colunga was hit with more bad news.
Colunga and her husband, Joel C. Colunga, of Merced, made the California Franchise Tax Board’s top 250 tax debtors list. According to the state, the Colungas owe $505,315.14 in personal income tax to the state. A tax lien was filed by the state May 12, 2010.

Maria Colunga was the owner of the now-shuttered Merced Farm Labor, a contracting business that employed farmworkers.

She was charged with involuntary manslaughter in a criminal case involving the heat-related death of 17-year-old farmworker Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez. She pleaded guilty in March to a misdemeanor count of failing to provide shade and was sentenced to three years’ probation, 40 hours of community service and fined $370. Her plea deal bans her from working in farm labor contracting.

The teenager died May 16, 2008, of heat exposure while working in San Joaquin County. Authorities said the girl, who was two months pregnant, died because supervisors failed to provide shade and water for workers who were pruning grapes for nine hours in nearly triple-digit heat in a vineyard near Farmington.

The Department of Industrial Relations shut down Merced Farm Labor in June 2008.

Attempts by the Sun-Star to reach the Colungas for comment were unsuccessful.

Listed if debt above $100K

The state tax board is required by law to post a list of the top 250 debtors, according to Daniel Tahara, spokesman for the board.

“We compile and publish a list of the largest debtors that owe more than $100,000,” Tahara said. “We publish it once a year.”

Before the list is published, Tahara said the tax board sends preliminary notices to people who are going to be listed, notifying them of how much money they owe and that the list will be published.

“If they don’t contact us, their name will appear on the list,” Tahara said.

The list includes personal and corporate taxes owed to the state. The top slot on the list was held by Halsey M. and Shannon Minor of Los Angeles, who owe $14,247,341.09.

Tahara said the tax board uses the list as one tool to get people to come forward and pay up.

“Ideally we would want to work with them. We understand some people are experiencing financial hardships,” Tahara said.

“We don’t want to put them into worse hardship, so we work with them to pay down their debt.”

Tahara said the state is owed about $206 million.

After the first round of certified letters was sent, the state collected $13 million.

Posting the list became a state law in 2007. Since then, the state has collected more than $78 million from back taxes.

“People recognize names on the list and contact us,” Tahara said. “We’re always trying to identify people and find them.”

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@ mercedsun-star.com.

Source: MercedSunStar.com, “Merced contractors in pregnant farmworker’s death among California’s top tax debtors” by Carol Reiter, 15 Apr 2011.

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