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By Joe Anuta

The Queens owners of a discount Chinatown bus company shuttered after a fatal accident pleaded guilty to withholding money from their drivers, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said last week.

Guo Wei Lin, 37; Lei Shi, 39; and Ming Gao, 43, all of Fresh Meadows, were arrested June 19 and a day later copped to charges of failure to pay wages, according to prosecutors.

“Paying wages is the most basic obligation of an employer to his or her employees,” Schneiderman said. “Employers like Lin, Shi and Gao can’t walk away from this legal and moral responsibility, and they will be held accountable.”

The trio ran a North Carolina-based company called Sky Express Inc., which hauled passengers from Manhattan’s Chinatown to casinos and other destinations along the Eastern Seaboard until a fatal accident in Virginia May 31, 2011.

The driver of that bus, Flushing resident Kin Yiu Cheung, was charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after he dozed off at the wheel about six hours into the trip, causing the bus to overturn in the northbound lanes of I-95 in Caroline County.

Twenty of the 57 passengers were taken to area hospitals, and four died as a result of the crash. Two of the victims were from southeast Queens.

Cheung was sentenced to 40 years behind bars, but will initially only serve half that sentence. He will then be required to stay out of trouble to avoid the second half, according to Caroline County judicial records.

The crash, along with other fatal accidents involving discount bus companies, prompted U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to draft a bill strengthening safety requirements for tour buses, requiring monitors to ensure drivers are abiding by rules meant to prevent fatigue. The bill also required companies to publicly post their safety records.

In the wake of the company’s closure, which left about 13 people jobless, the triumvirate decided not to sign any paychecks for the month of May, which amounted to more than $40,000 in unpaid wages, Schneiderman said.

As a result of the plea, Gin, Shi and Guo forked over the back wages and were also required to perform five days of community service, according to the sentence handed down by Judge Steven Statsinger.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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