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02/04/2015

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Houston couple sentenced to more than a year in federal prison for Chinese restaurant racketeering employment conspiracy

Fined $2.2 million combined with a forfeiture of $50,000

BEAUMONT, Texas — A Houston husband and wife were each sentenced Thursday to more than a year federal prison for racketeering violations in connection with an employment referral conspiracy.

These sentences were announced by U.S. Attorney John M. Bales, Eastern District of Texas, and Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Houston.

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) HSI offices from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and New Orleans; U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine; U.S. Marshals Service; and Texas police departments from Houston, Port Author and Beaumont.

Lina Sun, 55, and Chenglun Ma, 58, were sentenced Feb. 5 by Judge Thad Heartfield for the racketeering influenced and corrupt organizations (RICO) conspiracy.  Sun and Ma were sentenced to 18 months and 13 months in federal prison, respectively.  They were also jointly ordered to submit to forfeiture of a residence located at 8715 Bellaire Blvd. in Houston, a $2.2 million money judgment, and forfeiture of $50,000 cash. Both pleaded guilty to the RICO charges June 3, 2014.

"Those who think that they can build their businesses on a foundation of corrupt and illegal activities will eventually see those enterprises crumble," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "These sentences cap a multi-year investigation of the Hong Li Job Agency and the Tai Shan Employment Agency by HSI and our partners in the Eastern District of Texas that weakened the business foundations and brought down these two corrupt enterprises."

According to court documents, Lina Sun and her husband, Chenglun Ma operated the “Hong Li Employment Agency” in Houston Texas for more than a decade.  The principle purpose of the employment agency was placing illegal aliens as food service workers in Chinese and Asian restaurants across the United States. Restaurants securing employees from this scheme have been identified in 20 states, including some as far away as Maine. Some of the most prolific restaurants in this scheme were located in Jefferson County, Texas.

Federal indictments were returned Nov. 7, 2013 charging 32 individuals with the RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to transport, harbor, and encourage and induce illegal aliens to reside in the United States.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Craft, Eastern District of Texas, prosecuted this case.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 02/06/2015