BREWER, Maine — Three weeks after the manager of the Twin Super Buffet in Brewer was arrested and charged with money laundering and harboring illegal immigrants, she has decided to close the business.
“Our last day is [Feb.] 25th,” buffet manager Mei Ya “Sandy” Zhang, 28, said Thursday.
Zhang, who was arrested on Jan. 16 and charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting harboring of illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are harassing her.
“In a 13-month period, they came in three times,” she said. “All three times they came in, there was no illegal [activity], but they still come in.”
Zhang, 28, of Brewer was released on $10,000 unsecured bond after making her first appearance in U.S. District Court before a federal judge. She and six other family members were named in the federal complaint.
Local police and agents from the federal government raided the Chinese buffet restaurant, and others owned by the Zhang family in Lewiston, Waterville and Portland on Nov. 16, 2011.
The federal investigation, which began in February 2006, alleges that the Zhang family organization employed and harbored scores of illegal aliens at its Chinese buffets and bistros in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and skimmed nearly $2.9 million from the businesses over a 10-month period, according to the federal complaint filed in April 2012 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark.
In addition to the Twin Super Buffet in Brewer, the Zhang family organization owns the New China Super Buffet in Lewiston, the now-closed 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 complaint states.
Sandy Zhang told federal investigators that she worked for her uncle and knowingly hired illegal Hispanic workers, paid employees in cash and helped to transport illegal workers who lived at a “safe house” in Brewer, the complaint states. She faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, if convicted.
She is the first Zhang family organization member to be charged in Maine.
The federal raids also resulted in charges against Mexican national Walter Cruz Sanchez-Armira, a 25-year-old Mexican citizen, who federal officials say was working illegally for Zhang in Brewer. He was charged with illegal entry into the United States after having been removed or deported.
Sandy Zhang said on Thursday she didn’t remember Sanchez-Armira. She said a second reason the business is closing is because the lease is up, which is the reason listed on a sign put up this week at the Brewer restaurant. She said she will help run the Super China Buffet in Waterville, which will reopen soon.
“I don’t know why they continue to bother us,” she said of federal officials.
The repeated raids have hurt business in Brewer, Sandy Zhang said.
“A lot of customers think we [are] closed and decide it’s not worth it to drive over,” she said.
BDN reporter Judy Harrison contributed to this story.