BREWER, Maine — Employees and others involved with Texas employment agencies that connected illegal aliens with Chinese restaurants across the country — including in Brewer, Maine — were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury, according to a Department of Justice press release.
The 32 people charged are from Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas, but the 41-page criminal indictment states some of the illegal aliens — who mostly came from Mexico and Central America — made their way to Maine.
“Clients of the Hong Li Enterprise were Chinese restaurants or other Chinese-owned restaurants located in several states, to include Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Maine,” the federal indictment states.
The employment agencies found illegal immigrants and for a price would connect them with Chinese restaurant owners willing to look the other way when it came to employment documentation in exchange for long working hours, often squalid living conditions and a below average wage.
“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,” Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Houston said in the press release. “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.”
The federal indictment, filed in the Eastern District of Texas, states that on at least two occasions in November 2010, operators of the Texas employment agencies “and others known and unknown, encouraged and induced, and caused the harboring, transport to, an unauthorized alien at a Chinese restaurant in Brewer, Maine.”
The indictment does not list the name of the restaurant, but at that time a federal immigration and money laundering investigation was underway at the now closed Twin Super Buffet for harboring of illegal aliens for financial gain, money laundering and conspiracy to file false federal tax returns.
The former manager of the Chinese buffet in Brewer, which had been the target of a federal investigation since 2006 and was raided multiple times by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in 2011 and 2012, pleaded guilty in June 2013 to multiple charges related to employing and harboring undocumented workers.
Mei Ya Zhang, 28, of Brewer, pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy and aiding and abetting harboring of illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain, money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to file false employer’s quarterly federal tax returns. She was released on $10,000 unsecured bond and ordered to surrender her passport. A sentencing date has not been set.
Zhang was arrested in January 2013, and closed the Brewer restaurant a month later. She and six other family members were named in a separate federal complaint filed in Maine.
Another oriental restaurant, China Rose Buffett, opened in July at the former Twin Super Buffet, located at 274 State St. in Brewer. The restaurant is owned by Jiang Hua Zheng of Alexandra, La., and Xiu Bin Zhang of Freeport, who are operating it under the name Donghang LLC.