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August 24, 2017Minneapolis, MN, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

Minnesota woman sentenced to a year in federal prison for labor trafficking

Judge orders defendant to forfeit her house and pay more than $123,000 in restitution

MINNEAPOLIS — A Twin Cities woman was sentenced Thursday to a year in federal prison following her conviction on multiple charges related to labor trafficking.

This sentence resulted from an investigation by the following agencies:  U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Woodbury (Minnesota) Police Department, the Washington County (Minnesota) Attorney’s Office, with assistance from the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Lili Huang, 36 of Woodbury, Minnesota, was sentenced for withholding documents, as well as enslaving, starving and beating a victim in a forced-labor case. Huang, who pleaded guilty May 31, 2017, was sentenced before U.S. District Senior Judge David S. Doty.  In addition to the one year and a day in federal prison, Huang will forfeit her house; and she must pay restitution to her victim totaling $95,944.80.  She must also pay $27,344.73 in restitution paid for third-party victim services. After she completes her federal prison term, she will be deported to China.

“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to investigating and prosecuting all forms of human trafficking, including forced labor,” said Special Agent in Charge Alex Khu of HSI St. Paul. “Lili Huang’s prison sentence, and the forfeiture of her home and other assets, can never fully restore all that she took from her victim, but it shows that her actions will not be tolerated in our community. HSI is proud of the work accomplished in this case with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Washington County Attorney’s Office, and the Woodbury Police Department.”

“With today’s sentencing, Lili Huang must accept the consequences of committing such an egregious crime – not only financial repayment, but also the loss of liberty and property,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Brooker. “I am grateful for the dedicated work of the ACTeam and our local law enforcement partners for their collaborative efforts in bringing this case to a successful resolution.”

“In February 2016, the Woodbury Public Safety Department received training on investigating human trafficking cases and identifying trafficking victims. As a result of this critical training, the responding officers quickly recognized that this individual was a victim of human trafficking and were able to access the appropriate help and resources for the victim,” said Woodbury Police Commander Steve Wills. “The Woodbury Police Department and Washington County Attorney’s Office remain committed to putting resources into combatting all forms of human trafficking.”

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in both state and federal court, on Feb. 25, 2016, Huang brought the victim (identified as F.L.) from Shanghai, China, to her home in Woodbury, Minnesota, to work as a nanny and housekeeper. Although F.L. had previously worked for the defendant in China where she cooked, cleaned and cared for the defendant’s children, the scope of work and the defendant’s treatment of F.L. was significantly different once she arrived in Minnesota. Huang forced F.L. to work up to 18 hours per day cooking, cleaning, and providing childcare. Huang was very demanding about household tasks and became emotionally and physically abusive toward F.L. if she did not do exactly what was asked.

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in both state and federal court, on April 23, 2016, due to the repeated physical abuse, F.L. asked Huang to buy her an airplane ticket so she could return home to China. Instead of buying her a ticket, Huang took F.L.’s passport and told F.L. that she was not leaving. Huang continued to physically abuse F.L. by kicking, punching, grabbing F.L. by her hair, and subjecting her to other abuse. F.L. documented the physical abuse by using her cellphone to take photographs of the bruises and other injuries. F.L. also hid clumps of her hair under her mattress, which had been grabbed and torn out by the defendant. 

On July 13, 2016, F.L. fled the house after Huang approached her with a large kitchen knife. Just after midnight on July 14, 2016, F.L. was found wandering the streets several miles from the defendant’s home walking in the direction of the airport. F.L., who was visibly shaken and crying, was taken to United Hospital for medical treatment. The victim sustained several bruises and injuries to her face, including two black eyes, significant weight loss, and fractures to her sternum and ribs.

Huang pleaded guilty in Washington County to one felony count of third-degree assault and was sentenced on Aug. 11, 2017.

The District of Minnesota is one of six districts designated through a competitive, nationwide selection process as a Phase II Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam), through the interagency ACTeam Initiative of the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Labor. ACTeams focus on developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion through interagency collaboration among federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Laura M. Provinzino and Manda M. Sertich, District of Minnesota, prosecuted this case.