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ICE announces prison term for employing undocumented workers

A Missouri woman was sentenced on March 22, 2011, to a year in prison for transporting, harboring, and hiring undocumented workers at the Chinese restaurant she managed. The sentence resulted from a worksite enforcement investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

ICE reported that Hua Huang was sentenced in the Eastern District of Missouri "on two counts each of harboring, transporting, and employing illegal aliens, and one count each of structuring a financial transaction and conspiring to commit visa fraud." She pleaded guilty to the charges in December. Upon release from prison, Huang will also serve two years of supervised release with a six-month term of home confinement.

The investigation, which was initiated by the Poplar Bluff, Missouri, Police Department, began in February 2009. ICE joined the investigation in October 2009. The investigation revealed that between January 2009 and August 2010, Huang was manager of the China Buffet/Mongolian Grill in Poplar Bluff. During that time she regularly employed a number of undocumented workers from Mexico and China. The employees typically worked 12-hour shifts, six days a week, and were paid in cash amounts far less than minimum wage. Waiters and waitresses were typically paid in tips only. State and federal taxes were not withheld. Cash sales for the restaurant routinely went unreported.

As a result of surveillance conducted by ICE agents and Poplar Bluff police officers, authorities determined that the workers were being housed or "boarded" in two residences owned by individuals and entities connected to the China Buffet/Mongolian Grill. Authorities observed that the workers were shuttled to and from work daily in a van operated by Ms. Huang or other employees of the business.

On August 4, 2010, federal search warrants were executed at several residences and the China Buffet/Mongolian Grill. During the execution of the search warrants, agents seized a 2008 Highlander sport utility vehicle, a 2005 Chevrolet passenger van, and $34,000 in cash. The van was being operated by Ms. Huang to transport the workers to the China Buffet. As part of the prosecution, the vehicles, cash, and four separate pieces of real estate were ordered forfeited, with a total value of more than $350,000.

In her guilty plea, Ms. Huang also admitted to structuring financial transactions to prevent a local bank from reporting those transactions.

The ICE announcement is available at http://www.ice.gov/news/releases/1103/110322stlouis.htm.

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