Over 30 charged in LA, TX for conspiracy involving Chinese restaurants and illegal immigrants
BEAUMONT, TX (NBC33) — According to a statement by the U.S. Immigation and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement Thursday began arresting 32 defendants charged with racketeering and immigration violations throughout Texas and Louisiana.
According to court documents, two employment referral businesses operating out of Houston recruited illegal immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, to work in Chinese restaurants.
These workers routinely worked 12 hours per day, six days per week. In addition, they were not paid overtime, not permitted to receive tips or gratuities, and were paid in cash by the restaurants.
The restaurants profited by avoiding paying employment taxes, and they did not provide any benefits such as health insurance, vacation or sick time.
Workers were paid far less than minimum wage, did not receive health examinations, food safety training, or any job training at any time while employed.
Additionally, these workers were subjected to unfavorable living arrangements provided by the restaurant operators, either at the operator's residence or at another off-site residential location. Living arrangements were overcrowded and sometimes consisted of air mattresses or floors for sleeping. For instance, 18 people were found to be housed in a 2000-square foot house.
Arrests of the indicted individuals began Jan. 30. The following individuals have been charged:
- Lina Sun, 54, of Houston;
- Chenglun Ma, 57, of Houston;
- Chang Jin Song, 56, of Houston;
- Zhiqiang Li, 59, of Houston;
- Chenzong Yu, 44, of Houston;
- Jin Zhu Wang, 50, of Port Arthur, Texas;
- Li Qiu Jiang, 52, of Port Arthur, Texas;
- Hua Zhu Dong, 45, of Port Arthur, Texas;
- Wei Ji Zheng, 38, of San Marcos, Texas;
- Wen Juan Zhang, 34, of San Marcos, Texas;
- Chanjuan Xie, 31, of Sanger, Texas;
- Xue Fang He, 28, of Sanger, Texas;
- Zhen Yin Weng, 55, of Little Rock, Ark.;
- Dan Hui Lu, 32, of Dallas;
- Zeng Yu Huang, 50, of Mineola, Texas;
- Jian Tuan Dong, 47, of Rockwall, Texas;
- Jian Jun Ma, 60, of Houston;
- Liang Gao, 42, of Houston;
- Shoufang Jiang, 43, of Houston;
- Jiang Ping Zhang, 65, of Houston;
- Wen Jian Wen, 26, of Houston;
- Xiaofeng Zhu, 43, of Sugar Land, Texas;
- Xianghong Sun, 54, of Missouri City, Texas;
- Yan Mao, 39, of Brownwood, Texas;
- Yip Keung Leung, 40, of Brownwood, Texas;
- Selena Ling Feng, 37, of Nacogdoches, Texas;
- Zongxian Zhu, 41, of Nacogdoches, Texas;
- Jing Heng Jiang, 51, of Bastrop, La;
- Hua Lin, 30, of Allen, La;
- Houng Chen, 39, of Abbeville, La; and
- Jin Zhu Fang, 38, of Abbeville, La.
Federal indictments were returned Nov. 7, charging 32 individuals with racketeering influenced and corrupt organizations (RICO) conspiracy, and conspiracy to transport, harbor, encourage and induce illegal immigrants to reside in the United States.
If convicted, each defendant faces up to 20 years for the RICO charge and up to 10 years for the immigration conspiracy charge.
"The Hong Li Job Agency and the Tai Shan Employment Agency operated a 'take-out and delivery service' for restaurants across the region – but they didn't deliver food. Instead, they delivered people illegally present in the United States to greedy restaurant owners and managers looking for cheap labor," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston.
"The illicit efforts of the defendants and others like them help push those unlawfully here deeper into the shadows, and the jobs they market serve as a magnet for future illegal immigration."
It is important to note that a grand jury indictment is not evidence of guilt.