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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
10/27/2010

Boulder man pleads guilty in connection with a human trafficking prosecution for harboring illegal aliens and tax related charges

DENVER - A Boulder, Colo., restaurant owner from Thailand pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of harboring illegal aliens and one count of failing to pay taxes.

The guilty plea was announced by: U.S. Attorney John Walsh, District of Colorado; Denver Special Agent in Charge Kumar Kibble, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); and Special Agent in Charge Christopher M. Sigerson, IRS Criminal Investigation from the Denver Field Office.

As part of the plea agreement, Opas Sinprasong, 52, of Boulder, Colo., will forfeit $766,000 and two residential properties. He also faces incarceration and restitution to compensate the victims of his crimes. Sinprasong also agreed to be deported to Thailand after he completes his prison sentence, if any is imposed by the judge. The guilty plea was tendered before Chief U.S. District Court Chief Judge Wiley Y. Daniel. Chief Judge Daniel is scheduled to sentence Sinprasong on Feb. 10, 2011. Sinprasong was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in Denver on the same date in 2010.

According to the plea agreement and the indictment, Sinprasong is a citizen of Thailand residing legally in the United States on an E-2 Non-Immigrant Principal Investor status visa. While in the United States, he ran Thai and Japanese restaurants in Boulder, Louisville, and Broomfield, under the following business names: Siamese Plate and Sumidas, and Siamese Plate on the go.

From 2001 through 2008, Sinprasong sponsored Thai nationals' admission to the United States as specialty workers for his restaurants. He claimed in immigration applications that these workers possessed specialized skills that were essential to the efficient operation of his businesses. The Thai employees were admitted to the U.S. for a term of two years, which could be extended for an indefinite number of two-year terms.

Sinprasong required all Thai employees enter into a two-year employment contract. The terms of employment per the contract included:

  • Employees had to pay the defendant a "bond" of 50,000 Thai baht (about $1,500 U.S.). The "bond" was a substantial amount of money to the Thai employees.
  • Employees were liable to the defendant for a penalty of 600,000 Thai baht (about $18,000 U.S.) if the employee violated a term of the contract or caused damage to Sinprasong. Employees were also required to obtain a personal guarantor in Thailand, who entered into a contract with the defendant making the guarantor liable for the penalty if the employee violated a term of the contract or caused damages.
  • Employees paid the defendant a $3,000 "visa preparation fee" after they arrived in the United States, in addition to other fees.

Sinprasong directed the employees to start work at his restaurants upon arrival in the U.S. and he paid them "under-the-table" while deducting portions of the $3,000 "visa preparation fee" and other fees from their paycheck. Once these fees were fully paid through such deductions, which typically took between three and four months, the defendant helped the Thai employees obtain Social Security numbers. Then Sinprasong started to report a portion of their wages and placed them on the official payroll of the restaurants.

Furthermore, Sinprasong defrauded the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Thai employees. As part of the scheme, Sinprasong used a dual payroll system whereby he concealed from his payroll records the substantial overtime hours he directed the Thai employees to work, which was typically between 26 and 32 hours of overtime each week. As a result, Sinprasong failed to report all of the wages paid to the Thai employees and failed to pay the Thai employees the overtime wages required by federal law. The defendant filed false employer's quarterly federal tax returns with the IRS since he failed to report the total wages paid to the Thai employees. By failing to report these wages, the defendant evaded paying the employer's portion of the Social Security and Medicare taxes due and owing on the unreported wages.

Sinprasong also filed false immigration applications and harbored illegal aliens.

"Those who break our laws to take advantage of vulnerable alien workers in order to enrich themselves will face dire criminal and financial consequences," said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. "Today's guilty plea is thanks in large part to the hard work of ICE and IRS Criminal Investigation."

"Ultimately, the details of this case show that Opas Sinprasong stacked the deck to make an illegal profit," said Kumar C. Kibble, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Denver. "These investigations and prosecutions help ensure that America lives up to its reputation as the beacon of freedom to the rest of the world." Kibble oversees a four-state area, including: Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

"The IRS enforces the nation's tax laws, but also takes particular interest in cases where someone, for their own personal benefit, preys upon the trust of others," said Special Agent in Charge Christopher M. Sigerson for IRS Criminal Investigation.

Sinprasong faces not more than five years imprisonment, and up to a $250,000 fine for each count of failure to pay employee federal payroll taxes, and not more than 10 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $250,000 for each count of harboring illegal aliens.

This case was investigated by ICE HSI and IRS Criminal Investigation.

Sinprasong is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Hearty, who is the section chief of the Major Crimes Section in the District of Colorado.