LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has announced the formation of a task force focused on investigating wage theft, a crime he said disparately affects undocumented and essential workers.

Partnering with such government agencies as the California Labor Commission and Los Angeles County Office of Immigrant Affairs, the task force aims to curb theft on workers from Los Angeles County, where Villanueva said $28 million in wages are stolen each week.

Villanueva said his department will train deputies to take reports of wage theft and turn them over to the department’s Special Victims Bureau to investigate.

Those cases may then be forwarded to the California Labor Commission or the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal prosecution.

If an employer is found by a judge to owe a worker back pay, “we will be the branch of government which will then go out and serve the employer the judge’s order,” Villanueva said.

“We’re the epicenter of wage theft in the entire nation,” Villanueva said during a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

“In fact, wage theft is greater than all other forms of theft combined. As sheriff of Los Angeles county, I believe together we can make a difference and right these wrongs, particularly right now, as many of these lower-wage earners struggle to put food on the table.”

Villanueva urged workers to report wage theft regardless of their citizenship status.

“We are in the midst of a global, raging, deadly pandemic and economic downturn, and here at home, LA county, as you know, is home to the largest number of undocumented immigrants in the entire nation, people living in the shadows and at the mercy of employers who will steal their wages in good economic times, and perhaps more so now,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva added pointedly, speaking to the public, “I want to emphasize to you, your immigration status is not a factor.”

As part of the partnership with the Office of Immigrant Affairs, victims will also receive resources and information on economic and other community services.

California Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower said having deputies collect payment from employers is an important part of the partnership. In thousands of cases, employers have refused to pay despite being told by a judge they must, she said.

“The important detail here is that the sheriff is putting his authority behind recovering these judgments and prioritizing the execution of these judgments, to the top of his list,” Garcia-Bower said.