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Kim Bartmann's restaurants under investigation for not paying employees

Kim Bartmann's restaurants have essentially been asked to turn over their books.

Kim Bartmann's restaurants have essentially been asked to turn over their books. Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

If the case against you is corroborated by a City Pages story... well, there's your defense right there. 

Then again, it can't help if the evidence is in your own words.

That's the case for restaurant owner Kim Bartmann, whose failure to pay roughly 190 employees at her Minneapolis restaurants -- which include Barbette, Pat's Tap, Book Club, and Tiny Diner -- has drawn the attention of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. 

On Friday afternoon, the Attorney General's Office issued a letter to Bartmann saying it had received complaints her restaurant group had not paid wages and tips owed to employees. The letter essentially asks Bartmann to turn over the books for her businesses, seeking the number of employees at each establishment, plus how many hours they worked and sick time hours they had accrued before the businesses went dark.

That's not all: The AG's office also wants revenue and expense reports, cash on hand, assets, information about company credit cards, plus 2019 tax statements.

The letter cites two state laws covering employee wages, and asks that Bartmann's businesses respond by April 3.

Bartmann emailed employees last week to say their paychecks weren't going to be available -- not last Friday, and likely not any time soon. Bartmann's seven Minneapolis restaurants closed on Monday, March 16, and since then just two (Barbette and Tiny Diner) have opened for takeout service during the coronavirus shutdown.

Bartmann spoke to City Pages about her apparent inability to issue paychecks, an interview cited as having "corroborated" accusations she hadn't paid employees before laying them off.

"We're thinking about what the next rational steps are to increase income with a very tiny band of people so we can keep working -- to try to become financially viable and earn the money to pay that payroll," said Bartmann, who also said she'd applied for an emergency small business loan.

In a statement accompanying the letter, Ellison said:

“Minnesota workers and small-business owners are both having a tough time affording their lives right now, especially in the hospitality industry that is such an important part of Minnesota’s economy and culture. But even in this tough time, it’s still not legal to withhold wages that employees have earned. Now more than ever, my office is here to help everyone, including workers and business owners, afford their lives, get through this crisis, and live with dignity and respect.”