New Orleans Man and His Restaurant Plead Guilty to Employing Unauthorized Aliens and Making False Statements
U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite announced that KE LIAN ZHAO, age 50, of Kenner, pled guilty to employing unauthorized aliens at his restaurant, LA JUMBO CHINA BUFFET (“JUMBO BUFFET”), and JUMBO BUFFET pled guilty to two counts of making false statements to federal agents.
According to court documents, from a time unknown but prior to August 2011 and continuing through March 2015, ZHAO knowingly and unlawfully hired or recruited three aliens for employment in the United States, knowing the aliens were unauthorized, as defined by section (h)(3) of Title 8, United States Code, Section 1324a. After hiring the unauthorized aliens, ZHAO continued to employ them in the United States, knowing that it was unlawful to employ such aliens.
During this time frame, JUMBO BUFFET knowingly and willfully provided materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations to agents of the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) in response to a Notice of Inspection and administrative subpoena, requesting an inspection of I-9 Forms. When DHS agents requested information about the employees of JUMBO BUFFET working at the restaurant on or about January 16, 2013, JUMBO BUFFET provided false and fictitious documents showing that it only employed Asian workers during this period. In fact, witness interviews, surveillance, and other admissible evidence, including statements from a company representative with authority to bind the company, confirm that JUMBO BUFFET employed Hispanic workers, who were unauthorized aliens as defined by Title 8, United States Code, Section, 1324a(h)(3), and unlawfully employed them at the restaurant.
Further, on or about September 26, 2013, JUMBO BUFFET, knowingly and willfully provided materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations to agents of the United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (“WHD”) in response to a Request for Information dated September 18, 2013, notifying JUMBO BUFFET, of the existence of a Fair Labor Standards Act investigation. JUMBO BUFFET did not pay its workers according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Some employees worked six days a week, for approximately 12 hours per day and did not receive overtime pay or minimum wage. When WHD investigators requested payroll information from JUMBO BUFFET, the company altered payroll documents to make it look as if it had complied with minimum wage and overtime pay requirements, when witness statements, surveillance, and other evidence show that employees worked in excess of a 40 hour work week, without being paid overtime, and were not paid minimum wage.
ZHAO faces a possible penalty of up to six months imprisonment, a fine of up to $3,000 per alien and a special assessment of $100. JUMBO BUFFET faces a possible fine of up to $500,000 and a special assessment of $400. Additionally, ZHAO and JUMBO BUFFET may be found to be jointly and severally liable for $52,305.78 in restitution. U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo set sentencing for May 19, 2016.
U.S. Attorney Polite praised the work of the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, the United States Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in investigating this matter. Assistant United States Attorney Sharan E. Lieberman is in charge of the prosecution.