Local Business Owner Pleads Guilty to Employing Unauthorized Workers

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, Kenneth A. Polite announced on Thursday, February 18, 2016 that Ke Lian Zhao, 50, of Kenner, pled guilty to employing unauthorized foreign nationals at his restaurant La Jumbo China Buffet ("Jumbo Buffet"). Jumbo Buffet also pled guilty to two counts of making false statements to federal agents. According to court documents, for a time prior to August, 2001 and continuing through March, 2015, Zhao knowingly and unlawfully hired or recruited three foreign nationals for employment in the United States , knowing the foreign nationals were unauthorized, as defined by federal law. After hiring the unauthorized foreign nationals, Zhao continued to employ them in the United States knowing that it was unlawful to employ the foreign nationals. During this time frame, Jumbo Buffet knowingly and willfully provided materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements or representations to agents of the United States Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") in response to a Notice of Inspection and administrative subpoena, requesting an inspection of I-9 Forms. When DHS agents requested information aobut the employees of Jumbo Buffet working at the restaurant on or about January 15, 2013, Jumbo Buffet provided false and fictitious documents showing that it only employed Asian workers during this period. In fact, witness interviews, surveillance, and other admissible evidence, including statements from a company representative with authority to bind the company, confirm that Jumbo Buffet employed Hispanic workers, who were unauthorized to work in the United States. Jumbo Buffet was also served with a Request for Information from the U.S. Department of Labor and was found to have committed violations of the Fair Standard Labor Act ("FSLA"). Jumbo Buffet failed to pay overtime or minimum wage to some of its workers as required by FSLA. Zhao will be sentenced on May 19, 2016. Zhao faces up to six months in prison and he and his restaurant could be liable for a fine of up to $500,000 as well as more than $50,000 in back pay to the underpaid workers.