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Two guilty of racketeering in Chinese restaurant referral conspiracy
BEAUMONT, Texas - A husband and wife have pleaded guilty to racketeering violations in connection with an employment referral conspiracy in the Eastern District of Texas, announced U.S. Attorney John M. Bales and Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Houston today.
Lina Sun, 54, and Chenglun Ma, 57, both of Houston, pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy on June 3, 2014 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin.
According to court documents, two employment referral businesses operating out of Houston recruited unauthorized aliens, mostly from Mexico and Central America, for work in the Chinese restaurant industry. These workers routinely worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, 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 payment of employment taxes and 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 subject 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.
Federal indictments were returned on Nov. 7, 2013, charging 32 individuals with RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to transport, harbor, and encourage and induce aliens to reside in the United States.
Sun and Ma each face up to 20 years in federal prison at sentencing. Sentencing dates have not been set.
"I congratulate the investigative team on what is surely a signature accomplishment," said U.S. Attorney Bales. "The defendants abused the aliens who came looking for work and they abused our nation's immigration laws. Now they will be held accountable under the law and then what good will their ill-gotten riches be?" We will continue to be vigilant."
"Those who think that they can build their businesses on a foundation of corrupt and illegal activities will eventually see those enterprises crumble," said SAC Moskowitz. "Today's pleas cap a multi-year investigation of the Hong Li Job Agency and the Tai Shan Employment Agency by HSI and our partners in the Eastern District of Texas that weakened the business foundations and brought down these two enterprises."
This case is being investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) offices in: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and New Orleans; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Air and Marine; U.S. Marshals Service; and Police Department's in Houston, Port Author and Beaumont. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Beaumont.