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Guilty Pleas in Houston Immigration RICO Cases

June 19, 2014 (1 min read)

"A man and woman from Houston pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering violations in connection with an employment referral conspiracy.  Lina Sun, 54, and Chenglun Ma, 57, pleaded guilty to racketeering influenced and corrupt organizations (RICO) conspiracy charges before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin.  According to court documents, two Houston-based employment-referral businesses recruited unauthorized workers, mostly from Mexico and Central America, to work in the Chinese restaurant industry. These recruited workers routinely worked 12 hours per day, six days per week; they were not paid overtime, not permitted to receive tips or gratuities, and were paid in cash by the restaurants.  The restaurants profited by avoiding paying employment taxes; and they did not provide any benefits such as health insurance, vacation or sick time. Workers were paid far less than minimum wage, did not receive health examinations, food-safety training, or job training at any time while employed.  Additionally, these workers were subjected to unfavorable living arrangements provided by the restaurant operators, either at the operator's residence or at another off-site residential location. Living arrangements were overcrowded; 18 people were found to be housed in a 2,000 square-foot house. Sleeping arrangement sometimes consisted of air mattresses or floors.  Federal indictments were returned Nov. 7, 2013, charging 32 individuals with RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to transport, harbor, and encourage and induce aliens to reside in the United States.  Sun and Ma each face a maximum 20-year prison sentence. A sentencing date has not been set." - ICE, June 3, 2014.