Eight State College restaurant owners and managers face federal charges in an alleged conspiracy to transport, harbor and conceal 18 illegal immigrants for “commercial advantage and private financial gain,” according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The charges stem from a federal investigation and raids of China Dragon, College Buffet, Chen’s Mongolian Buffet, Fuji & Jade Garden, Hunan Wok, 100 Degrees Hot Pot, My Thai and Penang Asian Fusion Cuisine in June 2014.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Thursday announced the charges were filed in the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg.
“Unauthorized alien workers were hired routinely to staff restaurant kitchen operations, thereby cutting costs and maximizing profits,” the release said.
Jing Mei “Jimmy” Jiang, 51, of Boalsburg, was identified in the release as the ring leader of the conspiracy. He is listed as the owner of Fuji & Jade Garden.
He was charged with defrauding the United States and Pennsylvania by underreporting the number of employees in audit and tax documents and by creating creating false financial records for quarterly employee wages. He also was charged in connection with the handling of finances for all the restaurants.
If Jiang is convicted, he could receive up to 10 years in prison under federal law for harboring and concealing illegal immigrants, 20 more years for wire fraud and fines totaling $500,000. The maximum penalty for his seven conspirators is five years of prison.
The government, however, filed plea agreements with each of the defendants that are subject to the approval of the court. Federal prosecutors agreed to recommend lower sentences for defendants if they cooperate with and assist the federal government.
The government is seeking the forfeiture of property in State College, including 210 Limerock Terrace, 458 E. College Ave. Unit 211, 458 E. College Ave. Unit 406 and 691 Westerly Parkway.
The government also is seeking cash allegedly tied to the criminal activity, including $21,890 seized from the China Dragon and $43,108 seized from 210 Limerock Terrace, according to the release.
The release also said the accused restaurant owners and managers transported the illegal immigrants, who originated from Mexico, Guatemala, Thailand and China, by commercial buses, vans and other vehicles to and from restaurants in the State College area, where they would work and be housed.
The conspirators also allegedly paid illegal immigrants below the minimum wage, did not withhold state and or federal taxes from the wages paid to them and did not require them to present documents establishing identity.
The payroll services of a New York accounting firm, which was not identified in the release, were allegedly used for the fraudulent production of a fictitious monthly payroll check for each employee and quarterly report of wages paid to each employee forwarded by mail or electronically filed. The actual number of employees working for the restaurants was allegedly “underreported,” which caused the accounting firm to transmit false and incomplete information by mail, the release said.