Restaurant owners indicted in hiring of illegal workers

March 15, 2006|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

A federal grand jury returned an indictment yesterday against the owners of Kawasaki restaurants, a collection of well-regarded Japanese establishments in Baltimore whose proprietors are accused of hiring illegal workers and pocketing customers' tips the employees earned.

Tzu Ming Yang, 48, his wife, Jui Fan Lee Yang, 49, and business partner Jack Chang, 41, all of Clarksville, were originally charged by criminal complaint. The indictment formalizes the charges, which include conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants, unlawfully employing them and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Each defendant could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on the money laundering charge, 10 years in prison for conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants, and six months in prison for unlawful employment. No court date for arraignments has been scheduled.

On March 2, immigration agents arrested the three in raids at Kawasaki restaurants in Mount Vernon, Fells Point and at Johns Hopkins Hospital. They detained 15 workers described in court papers as illegal immigrants. Agents said the workers were robbed of tips by their employers.

Investigators said they acted against Kawasaki because of repeated complaints going back almost a decade. Workers were housed in substandard conditions, including above the North Charles Street restaurant, and were paid as little as $2 an hour, according to federal officials.

Authorities also alleged in court papers that money owed to the immigrant workers was instead put into bank accounts used to pay for expensive homes in Howard County and luxury cars. The indictment seeks the forfeiture of those assets, which prosecutors argue were purchased, in part, with ill-gotten funds.

Gregg Bernstein, who represents the Yangs, said that he had no comment about the indictments, other than that the owners hope to reopen the restaurants as soon as possible.

Mark Bastan, acting special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Baltimore, said that the 15 detained workers were being held at the Wicomico County jail - in space rented by the federal government - as possible witnesses at trial.matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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