China Buffet II owners sentenced, fined for harboring illegal aliens

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Operators associated with the China Buffet II were sentenced to federal prison for immigration crimes related to undocumented employees.

The owner of the China Buffet II in Meridian will face a year in prison for harboring undocumented workers at their restaurant following ICE raids in February of 2017.

Cheng Lin, of Meridian, will serve one year in a federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for harboring illegal aliens at the Meridian restaurant, according to a news release from the Department of Justice Southern District of Mississippi.

Lin's father, Guo Guang Lin, of Brooklyn, New York, and his wife, Yang Fei Tang, an undocumented immigrant from China, each received a sentence of six months in prison followed by six months house arrest and three years of supervised release.

Guo Guang Lin, 61, also pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens while Tang, 33, pleaded guilty to hiring more than 10 undocumented workers within a one-year period. 

The China Buffet of Meridian, Inc., known as China Buffet II, will be on probation for two years, must execute an immigration compliance program and pay a $200,000 fine.

"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," Michael Hurst, the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case, stated in the release. "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."

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations observed a 15-passenger van, registered to China Buffet II, making trips from a home, owned by the restaurant, and the restaurant between 2012 and January 2017, transporting employees. 

On Feb. 22, 2017, HSI agents executed a search warrant and arrested nine undocumented employees. 

"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," according to the release.

Employees identified Guo Guang Lin as the driver and cook for the restaurant. Cheng Lin, in an interview, admitted that he paid employees living at the restaurant-owned home in cash while the hostess received a 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," the release said. "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 Lins also failed to pay federal income taxes, prepare I-9 Forms or report the wages of undocumented employees to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security or the Internal Revenue Service. 

Cheng Lin, 36, previously admitted to paying employees in cash at a restaurant he operated in New Orleans where he employed undocumented immigrants. Cheng Lin received a $23,250 fine for I-9 violations. 

Agents seized more than $700,000 in assets in 2017, including:

• $437,046 cash seized from safe deposit box number at Citizen’s National Bank;

• $106,000 cash in lieu of house owned by the corporation used to house undocumented workers;

• $86,070 cash seized from Cheng Lin’s home;

• $68,124 cash seized at the China Buffet II Restaurant;

• $34,212 held at Citizens National Bank in the name of Lin’s China Buffet of Meridian, Inc., and insurance payments or proceeds relating to the 2007 Ford E-350 van used in the case.

Glenda Haynes and Dave Fulcher, both Assistant U.S. Attorneys, investigated and indicted the case. Senior U.S. District Court Judge David M. Bramlette oversaw the case.

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