Utah video game developer sentenced to year in jail, fined $1.2 million for not paying wages

Associated Press
This undated photo provided by the Utah Attorney General’s Office shows David M. Rushton, the developer of popular video games including "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005," who began serving a yearlong jail sentence on Oct. 10, 2012, for failing to pay more than 100 employees their wages. The Utah Attorney General's Office says Rushton owes $1.2 million for nonpayment of wages. (AP Photo/Utah Attorney General’s Office)
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This undated photo provided by the Utah Attorney General’s Office shows David M. Rushton, the developer …

SALT LAKE CITY - The developer of video games including "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005" is serving a yearlong jail sentence in Utah for failing to pay more than 100 employees.

David M. Rushton, 57, owes $1.2 million in a rare criminal case for nonpayment of wages, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Thursday.

Rushton did business in a Salt Lake City suburb as Sensory Sweep Studio, which focused on selling games adapted from movies for Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox game consoles and hand-held devices.

"We had occasional paychecks that trickled in. Some people were favoured more than others," said Adam Hunter, a 29-year-old game designer now working for another Utah studio. Hunter said he was owed $12,000 after quitting in 2009.

"Much like with an ex-girlfriend, I've just moved on," Hunter said Thursday. "I'm a realist. I understand I'm not going to see any money. I'm not as bitter as I was when this all started going down years ago."

Utah is a minor hub for video-game studios with about a dozen companies, including Disney Interactive Studios.

Sensory Sweep Studio was known for churning out games quickly, taking a percentage of royalties from moviemakers and others, Hunter said.

Hunter said he "didn't know of a single person who was consistently getting paid" aside from Rushton, his children and their friends he employed as top game producers.

Rushton took a plea deal but plans to appeal, arguing that the state knew about the payroll problem years ago but didn't bring charges, said his lawyer, Darin B. Goff.

Rushton started his sentence Oct. 10 at the Salt Lake County Jail. Court records show he has a long history of failing to pay wages, payroll taxes or investment plan contributions. He was sentenced to six months in jail in 2010 for tax fraud and racketeering.

"We thought that Mr. Rushton was trying to continue his business on the backs of his employees," said Brent Asay, a wage-claim manager at the Utah Labor Commission. "It just appeared fishy to us."

He added, "I just really feel bad for these people, performing work and not getting paid. We saw very few cases where he made payroll."

Hunter lasted two years before calling it quits, hanging onto promises of paychecks that appeared only erratically, with Rushton sometimes handing out checks selectively and demanding confidentiality while blaming companies that licensed games for being slow to pay for their development or royalties.

Rushton employed as many as 211 people, too many for the size of his business, and declined to trim the workforce, Hunter said.

"The phrase 'next Friday' became a joke," Hunter said of promised paychecks. "It was always 'next Friday.'"

Sensory Sweep Studio also developed the video games "Jackass: The Game," ''Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting," ''Justice League Heroes" and "Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects."

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