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01/04/2011

Guam businessman indicted on money laundering, mail fraud and immigration violations

HAGATNA, Guam - The owner of a major Guam construction company has been charged in a 124-count indictment with a battery of federal violations for allegedly recruiting dozens of Chinese foreign nationals to come to Guam to work for his firm, then forcing them to labor long hours at substandard wages.

Steven Wang, aka Shui Cheng, 47, owner of Hua Sheng International Group, was taken into custody by federal agents Tuesday. He is charged in an indictment handed down Dec. 22, 2010, with 63 counts of harboring illegal aliens, 32 counts of money laundering, 15 counts of visa fraud and 13 counts of mail fraud. There is also an additional criminal count for using the mail in furtherance of the scheme. Wang made his initial appearance in federal court Tuesday and pleaded not guilty. He was ordered released on his own recognizance pending his trial, which is set for March 8.

The indictment is the result of a two-year investigation spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) working in concert with the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Districts of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands.

"In light of the anticipated population increase in Guam associated with the military buildup, there will be an influx in civilian and immigrant workers, including thousands of laborers who will be working on construction jobs as well as on a host of other projects," said U.S. Attorney Alicia A.G. Limtiaco. "We anticipate issues such as wage and hour and other labor-related matters, immigration, and human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking, will increase and that is a critical concern. The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to work closely with our local and federal counterparts to strengthen our response to these issues and pursue federal prosecution."

Investigators allege Wang recruited temporary foreign workers from China to come to Guam, telling them they would be paid Guam's prevailing wage, which was approximately $11 an hour. The defendant then submitted applications to the Department of Labor stating he intended to employ a certain number of aliens for specific projects and falsely representing they would be paid Guam's prevailing wage. After the foreign workers received their work visas and had arrived in Guam, Wang paid them approximately $5.50 an hour, required them to work 10-hour days, seven days a week, and illegally deducted $1,000 a month for expenses from their pay for the first 10 months after their arrival.

"As this investigation clearly shows, no business is above the law," said Wayne Wills, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Guam. "Employers who knowingly employ unauthorized workers and engage in related crimes such as visa fraud and alien harboring need to understand there will be serious consequences for their actions. Targeting individuals and businesses that knowingly hire unauthorized workers is key to protecting jobs for Guam's lawful workforce and reducing the demand for illegal alien labor."

"The laundering of more than $1 million in allegedly illegal proceeds was sure to be uncovered by our special agents and by other law enforcement officers on Guam," said Marcus Williams, Special Agent in Charge for the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation in Seattle that oversees the agency's investigative activities in Guam and the CNMI. "Special agents from IRS Criminal Investigation follow the money trail, which helps establish what financial crimes were committed, by whom and where the money ended up. These same agents often assist with the forfeiture of ill-gotten gains, or in other words, they take the profit out of crime."

Authorities say the Guam Department of Labor also provided substantial assistance with the investigation.