BEAUMONT, TX (KTRE) - A Nacogdoches man who was among 32 people arrested for recruiting illegal immigrants to work in restaurants earlier this year pleaded guilty to a felony federal human smuggling charge on Sept. 16.
According to federal court documents East Texas News obtained on Thursday, Zongxian Zhu, 42, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to transport, harbor, and encourage and induce aliens to reside in the United States.
As part of the agreement, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas dropped all of the other charges that were pending against Zhu. He will be sentenced after a pre-sentencing investigation.
Back in January, Zhu was among 32 Texans named in indictment that alleged they were all part of a conspiracy ring which employed illegal immigrants in the Chinese restaurant industry. One of the restaurants listed in the indictment was Nacogdoches' Asian City.
Selena Ling Feng, 37, of Nacogdoches, was also among the 32 people listed in the indictment. According to court documents, Feng pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiracy to transport, harbor, and encourage and induce aliens to reside in the United States on Aug. 12.
According to court documents, two employment referral businesses operating out of Houston recruited unauthorized immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, for work in the restaurant industry. Those workers routinely worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, were not paid overtime, did not receive tips and were paid in cash by the restaurants, according to the indictment.
The restaurants profited by avoiding paying employment taxes and by not providing employee benefits. They were paid far less than minimum wage, according to the indictment.
According to the indictment, the workers had unfavorable living arrangements. They were overcrowded and sometimes consisted of air mattresses or floors for sleeping.
The Hong Li Job Agency and the Tai Shan Employment Agency operated a ‘take-out and delivery service' for restaurants across the region - but they didn't deliver food. Instead, they delivered people illegally present in the United States to greedy restaurant owners and managers looking for cheap labor," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "The illicit efforts of the defendants and others like them help push those unlawfully here deeper into the shadows, and the jobs they market serve as a magnet for future illegal immigration."