Over $450K Recovered For Workers Of California Mushroom Farms That Were Sites Of Fatal Shootings

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (AP) — The owners of two Northern California mushroom farms where a farmworker killed seven people in back-to-back shootings last year will pay more than $450,000 in back wages and damages to 62 workers, the Labor Department announced Monday.

The owners of California Terra Gardens and Concord Farms in Half Moon Bay will also pay $70,000 in civil penalties for illegally deducting money from the workers' pay for housing them in cramped cargo containers, garages, dilapidated trailers and a moldy greenhouse infested with insects and surrounded by trash, the department said in a statement.

Chunli Zhao, who worked at California Terra Gardens and had worked at Concord Farms, was charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the Jan. 23, 2023, shootings that stunned the small coastal community about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of San Francisco. He has pleaded not guilty.

Authorities said Zhao opened fire at California Terra Garden, killing four co-workers and wounding another one. They said he then drove about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) to Concord Farms, a mushroom farm he was fired from in 2015, and shot to death three workers.

California Terra Gardens, Inc.'s owners, Xianmin Guan and his wife, Liming Zhu, illegally deducted money from workers’ pay for substandard housing, federal officials said. Federal investigators discovered 39 workers housed in cramped cargo containers, garages and dilapidated trailers furnished with filthy mattresses, the department said.

At Concord Farms, owner Grace Tung housed workers in moldy, makeshift rooms inside a greenhouse infested with insects, federal officials said.

Emails from The Associated Press seeking comment from the farms' owners were not immediately answered Monday.

“Our investigators found workers at California Terra Gardens and Concord Farms housed in sickening conditions, forced to sleep near garbage and with insects all around,” said Wage and Hour Division Assistant District Director Alberto Raymond in San Francisco.