For restaurateur Ulysses G (Blackie) Auger, problems with government regulators seem to be piling up faster than a triple-dip cone dispensed at his ice cream store on Connecticut Avenue.
On top of last week's raid by federal immigration agents at Blackie's House of Beef that netted 14 allegedly illegal aliens. Auger faces a formal accusation by the city that he improperly deducted the value of ice cream cones eaten during work breaks by another group of his employes.
Auger, who operates the beef house as part of a chain of restaurants, also has a Baskin-Robbins ice cream franchise at 1201 Connecticut Ave NW.
His dispute with the city came about when investigators for the wage-hour division of the D.C. Labor Department checked the store's payroll for possible violations of the minimum wage law, which requirers pay of at least $2.80 an hour for restaurant workers.
Michael A Bray, head of the division, said the investigators found that Auger's manager was deducting the value of "meals" served to employes on the premises, and that the meals proved to be ice cream cones - as many as the employes could eat.
Under D.C. law, restaurant owners are permitted to deduct up to $1.10 for each four hours of work for meals served to employes. The law does not, however, define meals.
Bray said Auger was accused of improperly withholding about $500 from thewages of 10 employees over a period of time on the grounds that a cone is not a meal.
Auger's attorney, Donald Cefaratti Jr., disputed the city's interpretation. Before the charge was adjudicated, he filed suit in D.C. Superior Court asking a judge to rule "that the credit or deduction is appropriate and proper . . ."
"A meal is food, and ice cream is food," Cefaratti said.
Assistant D.C. Corporation Counsel Edmund L. Browning Jr., in an answer to the case, asked a contrary ruling. He said the city would ask for a prompt decision.
If the court rules against Auger, he would have to pay the disputed wages and, possibly, a penalty.