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Worksite Enforcement
01/29/2009

Northern California restaurant operators sentenced for hiring illegal aliens

Charges stemmed from ICE worksite probe

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A husband and wife who managed an Asian buffet restaurant in northern Calif., were each sentenced today to 36 months probation and fined $36,000 for hiring illegal aliens and concealing a felony, violations uncovered during an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In addition to three years' probation and the fine, Rui Yang Lin, 48, and his wife, Bi Xia Ni, 46, of Vallejo, Calif., also agreed to forfeit a family home they owned that was used to house some of those illegal workers. Lin and Ni managed the Empire Buffet restaurant in Vallejo, Calif.

In sentencing the defendants, who pleaded guilty in October 2008, Judge Morrison C. England gave them credit for promptly accepting responsibility for their crimes. Only 36 days passed between ICE's execution of a search warrant at the restaurant and the defendants' guilty pleas.

While the listed owner of the Empire Buffet was Lin's daughter, Lin and his wife oversaw most of the day-to-day operations at the restaurant. As managers, Lin and Ni admitted they hired employees they knew were illegal aliens. According to their pleas, from March 2008 until September 2008, the Empire Buffet hired at least 12 illegal alien workers and the practice was part of a pattern of activity by the business.

To conceal the restaurant's illegal hiring practices, Lin and Ni acknowledged the business filed fraudulent wage reports with the California Employment Development Department (EDD). Beginning in April 2007, and continuing through July 2008, the Empire Buffet submitted nine wage reports to the EDD that failed to list the undocumented aliens hired by the business. By doing so, the restaurant was able to increase its revenue by hiding wage and tax information from the state of California.

The charges against Lin and Ni were lodged after ICE agents executed search warrants at four locations related to the case in September 2008. Those locations included the Empire Buffet, another Asian restaurant in Vacaville, Calif., the King's Buffet, and two residences. During the enforcement action, ICE arrested 21 illegal alien workers on administrative immigration violations who were encountered at the search locations.

Rui Tao Lin, owner of the King's Buffet, previously pleaded guilty to unlawful employment of aliens and mail fraud. His sentencing is set for February 6.

To help employers build a legal workforce, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has an initiative called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers or IMAGE. IMAGE is designed to build cooperative relationships between the government and businesses, strengthen hiring practices, and reduce the unlawful employment of illegal aliens. The initiative also seeks to gain greater industry compliance and corporate due diligence through enhanced training and education of employers. ICE strongly encourages employers to review IMAGE program materials available at www.ICE.gov.