Former Chinese Diplomat and Head of U.S. Operations for Chinese Construction Business Sentenced to 190 Months’ Imprisonment for Engaging in Forced Labor and Related Charges
Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, Dan Zhong, a former diplomat of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), was sentenced by United States District Judge Ann M. Donnelly to 190 months’ imprisonment and a $50,000 fine. Zhong, the former head of U.S. operations of Chinese Liaoning Rilin Construction (Group) Co. Ltd. (also known as China Rilin) and U.S.-based subsidiaries, including U.S. Rilin, was convicted by a federal jury in March 2019 following a three-week trial on charges of conspiracy to provide forced labor, providing and benefitting from forced labor, concealing passports and immigration documents in connection with forced labor, conspiracy to commit alien smuggling and conspiracy to commit visa fraud. The Court also ordered Zhong to forfeit his interests in multiple real estate properties and pay approximately $23,000 in restitution as part of the sentence.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent-in-Charge, Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, New York (HSI), and Timothy W. Dumas, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, New York Field Office (DSS), announced the sentence.
“Unlike Chinese Communist elites, Americans do not practice, condone or tolerate forced labor,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. “Mr. Zhong, a former long-time PRC diplomat, oppressed and coerced Chinese construction workers in New York, forcing some to work for years without pay under the threat of physical harm and financial ruin. Zhong will now pay a heavy price for those crimes.” Mr. Donoghue expressed his appreciation to the Department of State’s Office of Foreign Missions and the FBI’s Field Office in Newark, New Jersey, for their assistance on the case.
“Zhong forced his workers to work 14-hour days and live in cramped, unsafe conditions, with locks on the doors so they could not escape,” stated HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Fitzhugh. “Through forced labor, Zhong took advantage of those seeking a new life in America. Today’s sentencing is a testament to law enforcement’s resolve to arrest and prosecute anyone seeking to exploit people for person gain.”
“The Diplomatic Security Service works to identify and prevent situations where vulnerable individuals are exploited in human trafficking schemes such as this,” stated DSS Special Agent-in-Charge Dumas. “This case is an especially serious abuse of the legal and immigration systems as it involved a former diplomat of the People’s Republic of China. DSS agents stationed throughout the world are well-positioned to work with U.S. and foreign partners to stop those individuals who would manipulate instruments of international travel, and profit from the selling of human beings.”
Zhong’s company performed construction work on a variety of PRC government facilities in the United States, including the Permanent Mission of the PRC to the United Nations, the Embassy of the PRC to the United States and PRC Consulates General in the United States. Zhong and his co-conspirators obtained visas for PRC workers that required them to work only at PRC diplomatic facilities. In fact, they were forced to work on private construction projects, including a commercial building in midtown Manhattan, and private residences in Queens and on Long Island. Zhong also used the workers as personal servants – preparing meals, chauffeuring him and performing yard work at his home.
Zhong and his co-conspirators required PRC workers to turn over substantial “security deposits,” including the deeds to their family homes that were subject to forfeiture if they refused to work, as a key element of the “debt bondage” contracts the workers signed. Once in the United States, the workers were forced to surrender their passports to Zhong’s co-conspirators. The workers were required to work 14-hour days, seven days a week, for years without receiving any pay. Twenty or more workers were housed in one and two-family houses in Jersey City. Inspections of these houses revealed numerous fire code violations, as well as illegal locks to prevent the workers from escaping. Zhong and his co-conspirators resorted to physical force and threats to prevent escape by the workers, including forcing the workers’ family members out of their homes in the PRC. Zhong’s co-defendant in the indictment, Landong Wang, is a fugitive who is believed to be in the PRC.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and Cybercrime Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander A. Solomon, Douglas M. Pravda, Ian C. Richardson and Craig R. Heeren are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance provided by Assistant United States Attorney Brian Morris of the Office’s Civil Division which is handling the forfeiture aspect of the case.
Livingston, New Jersey
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 16-CR-614 (AMD)