updated 11/16/2010 3:26:29 PM ET 2010-11-16T20:26:29

The Department of Labor says the recession is financially stressing business owners and in a few cases, they're now pilfering employee contributions to 401(k) and health benefits accounts.

On Tuesday, the department filed civil lawsuits against 24 companies and business owners alleged to have kept money withheld from paychecks that was meant for retirement or health accounts.

The companies range in size, from fewer than 10 workers to more than 100. The largest case involves more than $6 million in worker contributions.

In some cases money was not deposited into the retirement account soon enough, but in others it was never deposited.

The Labor Department also has initiated 191 criminal investigations.

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