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November 22, 2021Nashville, TN, United StatesLabor Exploitation

Restaurant owner sentenced to federal prison for harboring undocumented workers and tax fraud following HSI investigation

Nashville, Tenn. — The majority owner of the New China Buffet and Grill in Clarksville, Tennessee, used as an employment site for undocumented workers, was sentenced to serve 20 months in federal prison.

This announcement was made by acting Middle District of Tennessee U.S. Attorney Mark H. Wildasin and HSI Special Agent in Charge Jerry C. Templet, Jr.

“Our HSI agents, working with their local, state and federal law enforcement partners, ensured the successful outcome in this case,” said Templet. “As a result of their thorough investigative efforts, this restaurant owner, who knowingly hired undocumented workers and violated multiple other federal laws, will pay for his illegal activities by not only serving time in prison, but forfeiting his ill-gotten gains.”

Quanwei Shi, 31, was sentenced for conspiracy to harbor undocumented residents; harboring undocumented residents; money laundering; tax evasion; and employment tax fraud. Shi and restaurant co-owner Chongqiang Chen, 30, also of Clarksville, were both arrested in April 2020, after a 14-count federal indictment charged them in a scheme to harbor undocumented workers and to defeat the tax laws of the United States. Shi pleaded guilty in March.

According to court documents, between 2017 and April 2019, Shi conspired to conceal and harbor undocumented residents from China and Guatemala, profiting from their employment. The undocumented workers were not required to complete any forms related to their immigration status and were paid in cash, outside the regular payroll system. The workers lived with Shi at his residence in Clarksville and were transported to the restaurant and back daily. Shi assigned the workers to work in the kitchen where they would not be able to interact with the patrons of the restaurant.

In addition to harboring the undocumented workers, Shi underreported gross receipts on the restaurant’s corporate tax returns for tax years 2017 through 2019, and failed to collect, account for, and pay over employment taxes for an overall tax loss of $440,941.

The court also ordered the forfeiture of Shi’s house in Clarksville and two vehicles as well as ordering restitution in the amount of $417,149.

Chen pleaded guilty in July and will be sentenced in February 2022.

In addition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); IRS-Criminal Investigation, this case was a joint investigation with Diplomatic Security Service of the U.S. Department of State; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; Tennessee Bureau of Workers Compensation; Clarksville Police Department; and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sara Beth Myers and Robert Levine are prosecuting the case.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move.

Learn more about HSI’s mission @HSI_Nashville.