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Restaurant operators plead guilty to hiring, harboring illegal aliens

Melissa DeLoach

Two operators of the Great Wall Chinese Super Buffet in Springfield pleaded guilty in federal court today for hiring and harboring illegal aliens from Mexico and China.

Miao De Zhang, 51, and Ai Hui Chen, 46, both of Springfield, appearing before U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge James C. England, pleaded guilty to charges contained in a Sept. 21 federal indictment.

A sentencing date is not set. England requested pre-sentence investigations to access appropriate punishment.

Zhang and Chen each face punishment up to 10 years and six months in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $268,000, according to federal sentencing guidelines.

By pleading guilty, Zhang and Chen admitted they hired and harbored employees that they knew were illegal aliens at various times during 2006.

?Business owners and operators are an important line of defense against illegal immigration,? said U.S. Bradley J. Schlozman in a news release. ?Employers have a responsibility to avoid hiring workers who are in this country unlawfully.

?We will be vigilant to hold employers accountable for that legal obligation.?
According to the affidavit, six of the employees ? five from Mexico and one from China ? were detained as illegal aliens, but none of those detained appear on Great Wall?s employee roster.

Officers from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement stopped Chen the morning of Aug. 24 after she picked up nine employees at a south Springfield duplex, located at the corner of Redwood Street and Jefferson Avenue about a block south of Walnut Lawn Street.

Some of the employees told federal agents they were hired without any paperwork and paid in cash. Others said that Chen picked them up in her van each morning to take them to the 3130 S. Glenstone Ave. restaurant, where they worked about 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Brian Wilburn, a member of the newly formed Springfield chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, said they have credible information about other incidents like Great Wall employing and harboring illegal aliens.

The group is gathering information to provide to authorities, he said, declining to give names of businesses.

?It?s not uncommon,? Wilburn said. ?It?s our belief there are others where illegals are staying in mass. We?ve received several tips where 10-12 individuals are at home where a prudent person will believe activity like this is taking place.?