Chinese restaurant owner, managers headed to prison for harboring illegal aliens in Mississippi

Published 10:02 am Friday, April 12, 2019

China Buffet II owner Cheng Lin, 36, of Meridian, was sentenced Thursday by Senior U.S. District Court Judge David M. Bramlette III to 12 months in federal prison, followed by 5 years supervised release, for harboring illegal aliens at his restaurant in Meridian, announced U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Jere T. Miles, and U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Rafiq Ahmad.

Lin’s father, Guo Guang Lin, 61, of Brooklyn, New York, and Lin’s wife, Yang Fei Tang, 33, an illegal alien from China, were each sentenced to 6 months in prison, followed by 6 months house arrest, and 3 years of supervised release, for their violations of federal immigration laws. Guo Guang Lin previously pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens, while Tang pled guilty to a criminal information charging her with hiring more than 10 illegal aliens within a one year period.

In addition, Cheng Lin’s restaurant, China Buffett of Meridian, Inc. d/b/a/ China Buffet II, was sentenced to two years probation for harboring illegal aliens and ordered to execute an immigration compliance program and pay a $200,000 fine.

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“These individuals chose to put profit before people, by secretly employing illegal aliens instead of American workers and cheating to get ahead of their competition. Those who violate our immigration laws, whether individuals or corporations, will be held accountable for their crimes. In order to staunch the flow of illegal immigration, we must prosecute those who are illegally employing, transporting and harboring them in our country. We will continue to prosecute these types of cases throughout Mississippi,” said U.S. Attorney Hurst.

“As this case makes clear, Homeland Security Investigations is equally focused in its worksite enforcement efforts on foreign nationals who unlawfully seek employment as well as the U.S. employers who knowingly hire them,” said HSI New Orleans Special Agent in Charge Jere Miles. “In addition to preserving fairness for legitimate businesses who operate lawfully, identifying and stopping the criminal networks that engage in cross-border human smuggling is a priority focus for Homeland Security Investigations as the criminal organizations behind this activity have no regard for the well-being of the people they smuggle who are often put at great risk during the dangerous attempt to illegally enter the U.S. HSI will continue to work collaboratively with our federal, state and local partners to investigate and prosecute such activity wherever it may be found.”

In 2004, Defendant Guo Guang Lin was listed as one of the principal officers of China Buffet of Meridian. In 2011, Guo Guang Lin became the principal officer of the company. In 2014, the company was dissolved and reincorporated as Lin’s China Buffet of Meridian d/b/a China Buffet II, with Gui Guang Lin and Cheng Lin listed as some of the incorporators.

From 2012 through January 2017, HSI agents observed a 15-passenger van registered to China Buffet II making multiple trips to a house owned by China Buffet of Meridian Inc. to pick up illegal aliens living at the house and transport them to the restaurant where they worked, and back to the home. In January 2013, three illegal aliens were encountered by HSI, two of whom were in a 15-passenger van previously parked at a residence owned by China Buffet where the illegal aliens lived while working at China Buffet.

On February 22, 2017, HSI agents executed a search warrant at China Buffet and encountered 9 illegal aliens. None of them were required to complete any paperwork or show any documents or identification when they were hired as employees, nor were they asked about their immigration status.

Guo Guang Lin was identified by multiple illegal aliens as the driver of the passenger van between the home housing the illegal aliens and the business. Guo Guang Lin was also identified by illegal aliens as a cook at the restaurant.

When Cheng Lin was interviewed, he admitted that the employees he paid in cash lived at the house owned by China Buffet II, while the hostess was paid via check.

A monthly payroll ledger discovered during the search confirmed illegal employee names, dates worked, amounts paid and other information from July 2013 through January 2017.

This ledger was separate from the payroll records for legal employees. It was also discovered through the investigation that China Buffet II omitted wages for their illegal employees when sending payroll records to their accountant in New York. The defendants also failed to withhold and pay federal income taxes on these illegal aliens, failed to prepare I-9 Forms, and failed to report wages to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security or the Internal Revenue Service.

In 2007, HSI arrested numerous illegal aliens employed at a restaurant owned by Cheng Lin in New Orleans. Cheng Lin admitted to paying employees in cash, and that employees were provided lodging, transportation and meals at no expenses. Lin was fined $23,250 for I-9 violations.

Cash and property seized in 2017 from the restaurant, bank accounts, and home of the Defendants, as well as the value of some assets, totaled over $700,000 and was forfeited to the Federal Government.