A Puyallup City Council member has been penalized by the state Department of Labor & Industries for paying unreported and unlicensed workers for services at commercial properties he owns in the city.
Councilman John Hopkins paid $3,337.82 and an undisclosed amount in premiums after an audit found multiple labor law violations.
Hopkins acknowledges he didn’t follow some state requirements, but only because he was unaware of the state’s “narrow, restrictive” definition of independent contractors.
He said he’s being punished for hiring workers who claimed to be self-employed but didn’t properly register with the state.
An L&I audit report obtained by The News Tribune shows that Hopkins didn’t report hours for two workers and that two other workers for a local plumbing company were not exempt as independent contractors.
It also states Hopkins didn’t keep payroll records as required by state law.
The audit was prompted by two complaints that said Hopkins paid a handyman “under the table” for work including electrical wiring, painting, pressure washing and carpentry. The audit found that the work was “light maintenance.”
The complaints also accused Hopkins of allowing one of the employees to live on his commercial property for free in exchange for those services. The auditor was unable to substantiate that claim, according to the report.
Hopkins said he knew the handyman was living on the property, but he didn’t want to “throw him out on the streets.”
He stressed he didn’t charge him rent and didn’t require any services in exchange for the shelter.
“I was simply being kind to him,” he said. “Because someone made a complaint, he had to leave.”
Hopkins, a city councilman since 2012, said the complaints that spurred the L&I investigation were politically motivated.
“It’s clearly a political attack,” he said.
He added that since learning about the state registration requirements for independent employees, he is adjusting how he does business with self-employed contractors.
State law requires a business owner to validate that a contractor has current and valid licenses to operate and provide services.
A plumbing business hired by Hopkins, Puyallup-based Presto Plumbing, failed to meet several state requirements, the audit report states. Among the problems listed, the business was not licensed, insured or bonded, and one worker was not properly registered as a construction contractor.
The audit also found that a woman who was hired for “light cleaning” services didn’t meet all the necessary state requirements for working as an independent contractor.
Hopkins told the auditor he employed the “housekeeper” for his commercial property over the past three years and paid her $160 per month in checks. Hopkins said she earned a total of $6,650.34 during her employment.
He previously owned an electrical business and is currently owner or part-owner of six commercial buildings in Puyallup.
This is the second time in recent months that Hopkins’ private business affairs have been in the spotlight.
In October, police found a marijuana grow and hash oil extraction lab on a rental property managed by Hopkins; he was not considered a suspect. Police believe the illegal operation supplied a nearby medical marijuana dispensary.
The tenant, Andre Arthur Lempriere, pleaded not guilty to two counts of unlawful manufacturing of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, unlawful use of a building for drug purposes, unlawful possession of a firearm while not being a citizen of the United States, and reckless endangerment.
Lempriere, a British citizen, also was suspected of being in the United States illegally and was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement immediately after his arrest.
Hopkins said at the time he had no knowledge of the illegal operation and had only interacted with the tenant a handful of times.