ST. LOUIS, Mo. - A local woman pleaded guilty Friday to transporting, harboring and hiring illegal aliens to work at the Chinese restaurant she managed. This guilty plea was the result of a worksite enforcement investigation conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Hua Huang, aka Christine Huang, 36, of Poplar Bluff, Mo., pleaded guilty Dec. 10 in the Eastern District of Missouri to harboring, transporting and hiring illegal aliens. Huang also pleaded guilty to structuring a financial transaction and conspiring to commit visa fraud.
Between January 2009 and August 2010, Huang was manager of the China Buffet/Mongolian Grill in Poplar Bluff. During that time she regularly employed a number of illegal aliens to work at the restaurant, including Noe Martinez-Padilla and You Zhong Li. Padilla, a Mexican national, and Li, a Chinese national, had both entered the United States illegally.
Huang employed Padilla and Li knowing they were illegal aliens without authorization to work in the United States. Li told Huang that he was not in the United States legally. Huang provided Li with an identification card in the name of Gang Bing, which she told him to use if he was ever questioned. Padilla also told Huang that he did not have legal status in the United States. During the terms of this employment, Huang provided residential housing for both employees and provided them with transportation to and from work at the China Buffet/Mongolian Grill on a daily basis.
Huang and her father, Xiong Sheng Huang, entered into a written contract with her uncle, Gang Bing Huang, which provided that Gang Bing Huang would marry Chinese national Qui Ping Zheng for the sole purpose of fraudulently obtaining U.S. visas for Zheng and her two children. In return for this fraudulent marriage, Huang and her father would provide Gang Bing Huang with $140,000 to be paid in three installments: $15,000 initially, $110,000 to be paid when Qiu Ping Zheng and her two children, Shu Bin Zheng and Yi Mei Zheng, obtained their visas, and $15,000 when they obtained their green cards.
The contract further provided that Gang Bing Huang would travel to China and marry Qiu Ping Zheng. The defendant and her father would advance funds to Gang Bing Huang to purchase a condominium in Fuzhou, China, so Qiu Ping Zheng and Gang Bing Huang could establish a household. Gang Bing Huang and Qiu Ping Zheng would return the condominium to Huang and her father once Zheng obtained visas for her and her children.
The contract also provided that Gang Bing Huang would return to the United States and apply for U.S. visas for Qiu Ping Zheng and her two children as his lawful wife and stepchildren. Gang Bing Huang agreed not to divorce Qiu Ping Zheng until she and her children had secured legal status in the United States.
It was further a part of the contract that in exchange for their visas, Qiu Ping Zheng and her two children would work for the defendant and Xiong Sheng Huang in the United States for a period of three years each. If Qiu Ping Zheng or her children did not work for Xiong Sheng Huang for three years they were required to pay $200,000 to Xiong Sheng Huang for the release of their work commitment.
On or about April 11, 2007, $15,000 was provided to Gang Bing Huang per the terms of the contract. On July 3, 2007, Gang Bing Huang married Qui Ping Zheng in Fuzhou, China. An additional $10,000 in expenses, including costs for transferring households, phone and utility expenses, and attorney's fees were provided by Huang and Xiong Sheng Huang.
On Sept. 28, 2007, Gang Bing Huang filed a Form I-130 Petition for Alien visa, under penalty of perjury, with the U.S. Government on behalf of Qui Ping Zheng and her two children, The petition contained false statements and concealed facts. In December 2008, Gang Bing Huang and the defendant traveled to China. The cost for their flights was charged as "expenses" of the contract.
As part of the plea agreement, Huang agreed to forfeit to the U.S. Government her interest in several pieces of real estate in Poplar Bluff, two vehicles, and $35,000 in U.S. currency.
With her plea, Huang also admitted that on Sept. 17 she committed the offense of structuring a financial transaction in order to prevent a financial institution from reporting the transaction. Huang admitted taking $27,000 in cash into the Sterling Bank of Poplar Bluff and making three separate deposits of $9,000 into three different bank accounts. She then immediately drew upon each account to obtain three $9,000 cashiers checks in an effort to evade the bank's obligation to report transactions of $10,000 or more.
Huang now faces a maximum possible sentence of 10 years imprisonment and $250,000 fine for each of the two counts of harboring and each of the two counts of transporting illegal aliens; a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment and a $3,000 fine for each of the two counts of employing illegal aliens; a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for structuring; and five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy to commit visa fraud. Sentencing has been set for March 7, 2011.
ICE HSI was assisted in the investigation by the Poplar Bluff Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry H. Ferrell, Eastern District of Missouri, is prosecuting the case.