Workers: Smuggler’s paychecks bounced

In theory, the last two paychecks Crystal Nix received from Smuggler’s Brew Pub before its April 5 closure are worth $200.

For now, though, they aren’t worth the ink and paper it took to print them.

Nix said she has attempted to cash the checks, issued March 21 and April 6, at least 10 times. Each time, her bank tells Nix her former employer has insufficient funds to pay her.

Both checks are void after 60 days, a landmark passed for one of the checks and approaching for the other. Nix said many of the 12 to 15 employees left at Smuggler’s at the time of its closure also received bad checks, something that happened before, according to former employee C.J. Smith.

Smith said he worked at Smuggler’s from June 2010 to April 2011 and had two paychecks bounce during that time. The first time, he was paid in cash as an alternative, he said. The second time, Smith said it took two to four months for the brew pub to issue him a new check, which he said bounced after he had deposited it, resulting in a $12 fee being charged to his bank account. Smith, who now works at The Ale House, said he was not reimbursed for the fee.

“We had some people walk out (on their jobs) because their checks wouldn’t cash,” Smith said.

Smith said he also came to work one day in September at about 10 a.m. and found the brew pub closed for non-payment of sales taxes, he was told. The restaurant opened by 2 p.m. the same day, he said.

Incidents such as these meant Smith and Nix were not surprised when Smuggler’s closed last month or when former employees had trouble cashing checks.

“But I thought eventually it would clear one of these days,” Nix said, referring to her checks.

Former employees have tried to call Mike Metz, who owned the Smuggler’s at 2412 U.S. Highway 6&50 and works at the Smuggler’s in Telluride. Each time, he says the money is coming for the checks to clear and to stop calling, according to Nix.

Metz did not immediately respond to a message left Wednesday with the Smuggler’s in Telluride or to messages left at two numbers listed in his name.

“He doesn’t pay his employees, and I don’t understand why the cops aren’t doing anything to him,” Nix said.

The issue is likely a matter for civil court and not a criminal situation, according to Grand Junction Police Department spokeswoman Kate Porras. Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said it’s “highly unlikely this is a criminal situation,” and the only evidence that could change that would have to prove Metz knew months in advance he would not be able to pay his employees and plotted to get them to work for free.

“I haven’t seen a case like that that has been prosecutable in my 23 years in practice,” Hautzinger said.

Nix isn’t sure she could get enough former employees to pool money to bring a lawsuit against Metz, but she’s not ruling it out.

“If nothing else, I hope he’s not allowed to open another place and do this again,” Nix said.


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