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05/06/2009

Wisconsin restaurant owner sentenced to 15 months for harboring illegal aliens

GREEN BAY, Wis. - The owner of a Chinese restaurant in DePere, Wis., was sentenced in federal court on Wednesday to 15 months in prison for harboring illegal aliens to work at his restaurant. He was also ordered to forfeit the residence he used to harbor the illegal workers. The sentence resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"ICE will investigate employers who take advantage of illegal labor to gain a competitive advantage for their own profit," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "ICE is committed to enforcing the law against employers who tolerate or perpetuate a shadow economy."

Yu Tian Li, 45, of DePere, Wis., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William C. Griesbach, Eastern District of Wisconsin, to 15 months in federal prison for the crime of harboring illegal aliens. The prison sentence is to be followed by two years of supervised release.

In January, following a two-day trial in Green Bay, a jury convicted Li of two counts of harboring aliens for private financial gain and commercial advantage. As part of Li's sentence, Judge Griesbach also imposed a $10,000 fine and ordered the forfeiture of the defendant's residence, which was used to facilitate the crime.

Li owned and operated the "China King Buffet" restaurant located in DePere. The jury found that during 2008 Li harbored two Chinese nationals in his DePere residence. Evidence was presented to the jury that Li underpaid his workers and failed to report them to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

During Li's sentencing Judge Griesbach focused on the gravity of his crimes, noting that they involved victimizing illegal workers while allowing Li to obtain an unfair advantage over law-abiding competitors. He also noted that Li had a criminal history and had committed this latest offense while on probation for a state crime.