Federal prosecutor seeks $153,000 cash seized from Chinese buffets in Maine

Women run from the Twin Super Buffet in Brewer on Wednesday, November 16, 2011. Federal agents were seen removing boxes earlier that day.
Women run from the Twin Super Buffet in Brewer on Wednesday, November 16, 2011. Federal agents were seen removing boxes earlier that day.
Posted April 17, 2012, at 4:56 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to order the owners of 11 Chinese restaurants in three New England states to forfeit more than $153,000 seized from bank accounts in Maine.

In a complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark alleged that the Zhang organization skimmed nearly $2.9 million in cash transactions from the businesses in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island over a 10-month period. The Zhang family also hired and housed undocumented workers whom they paid in cash without withholding taxes, according to the complaint.

The Zhang family owns Twin Super Buffet in Brewer, the New China Super Buffet in Lewiston, the Super China Buffet in Waterville and the Kon Asian Bistro in Portland. It also owns five restaurants in Massachusetts and two in Rhode Island.

The principals in the Zhang organization are a group of family members. Zi Qian Zhang is the family patriarch and resides with his wife, Ai Hui Lu, in Massachusetts, according to court documents. Six other family members were named in the complaint filed Monday.

No one in the family has been charged in U.S. District Court in Maine, Massachusetts or Rhode Island.

In November, the federal prosecutor filed a complaint seeking the forfeiture of a house at 278 Elm St. in Brewer owned by Ai Hui Lu. It was used to house illegal workers in squalid conditions, according to court documents.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed that the $153,000 seized last year from seven bank accounts in Maine was earned illegally in violation of the following laws:

• Transportation of illegal aliens.

• Harboring of illegal aliens.

• Conspiracy to violate the immigration laws.

• Hiring at least 10 undocumented aliens during one 12-month period.

• Conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate its laws.

• Money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

• Engaging in monetary transactions in criminally derived property in amounts greater than $10,000.

The investigation, which began in July 2007, revealed that the Zhang organization employed and harbored scores of illegal aliens at its Chinese buffets and bistros, according to the complaint filed Monday. The family allegedly harbored them at 11 safe houses located near the restaurants and ferried them to and from work in vans.

Workers were paid between $1,200 and $2,000 a month in cash, and sometimes were required to work 70 or more hours per week, according to the complaint. They received no overtime pay, health insurance, workers compensation or other benefits.

The restaurants in Brewer, Lewiston and Portland remained open Tuesday. No one answered a call Tuesday afternoon to the Waterville location.

Efforts to reach Clark were unsuccessful Tuesday. It is the practice of the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to comment on cases until they have been concluded.

It could not be determined Tuesday whether federal prosecutors in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have sought the forfeiture of assets from the Zhang operation in those states.

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