Waterville woman sentenced to 15 months on immigration, money laundering, tax charges

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BANGOR, Maine — A restaurant manager from Waterville was sentenced July 1 to 15 months imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for harboring undocumented aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain. The sentence is the result of an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Brewer Police Department.

Mei Ya Zhang, 29, of Waterville, was sentenced by Chief Judge John A. Woodcock Jr. for harboring undocumented aliens, money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to file false employer's quarterly federal tax returns. In addition to imprisonment, Zhang was also ordered to pay more than $88,000 in restitution to the IRS. Zhang pleaded guilty to the charges June 5, 2013.

According to court records, between 2006 and 2011, the defendant was the manager of the Twin Super Buffet, located on State Street in Brewer. In that capacity, she managed a Chinese buffet restaurant that brought undocumented aliens into Maine to work. The workers were housed in cramped and squalid conditions on Elm Street in Brewer and transported directly to and from work each day, where they were expected to work six to seven days per week, 12 hours per day. Zhang paid the workers under the table with cash generated illegally by the employment of undocumented aliens, and filed numerous false quarterly employment tax returns in which the undocumented aliens were not disclosed and employment taxes were not properly withheld or paid.

The investigation revealed that about half of the employees at the buffet over the period of investigation were undocumented, and that the defendant’s activities concealed about $400,000 in wages and thwarted the collection of about $88,000 in employment taxes.

"HSI is committed to holding businesses accountable when they willfully seek to subvert the legal hiring process," said Bart Cahill, acting special agent in charge of HSI Boston. "Employers who deliberately violate our nation's hiring laws gain an unfair economic advantage over their law-abiding competitors. Our goal is to protect job opportunities for the nation's legal workers and level the playing field for those businesses that play by the rules."

In imposing the sentence, Chief Judge Woodcock noted that a primary obligation of citizenship is to obey the law. In this case, over a five year period, the defendant illegally hired undocumented aliens and paid them in cash under the table even after telling federal agents that she had stopped doing so. As a result, she unfairly competed with legitimate restaurants that paid their employees fair wages and that properly withheld and remitted employment taxes to the government.

HSI has a vital responsibility to enforce the law and engage in effective worksite enforcement to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce. HSI employs an effective, comprehensive worksite enforcement strategy that addresses both employers who knowingly hire illegal workers as well as the workers themselves.

HSI focuses its resources in the worksite enforcement program on the criminal prosecution of employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, in order to target the root cause of illegal immigration. Furthermore, HSI uses all available civil and administrative tools, including civil fines and debarment, to penalize and deter illegal employment. To learn more about worksite enforcement, click here.

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