Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jade Garden restaurants back in business, with legal employees (The Beaufort Gazette)

Jade Garden restaurants back in business, with legal employees
Published Thursday, April 22, 2010

Less than a month after the owner of Jade Garden in Bluffton and Beaufort and 14 of his employees were charged with being in the U.S. illegally, both restaurants have reopened.

Ming Wang, manager at the Bluffton location, said the restaurant on Fording Island Road reopened March 31, seven days after the arrests, with about five new employees hired from an agency in Chinatown in New York City.

The workers were hired from the same agency where the restaurants' owner, Zi Tong Wang, found employees in the past, including at least some of those charged last month, said Ming Wang, who said he is a friend of the owner but not related.
The manager said he could not immediately provide the name of the Chinatown agency.

"We call and they send people here," Ming Wang said. "That's what we did before, that is always what we do."

Before hiring the replacement wait staff, Ming Wang said, he checked to make sure each employee was authorized to be in the U.S.

"This time, I hired them, so I checked their green cards," Ming Wang said. "Last time, I didn't do the hiring."

The Jade Garden in Beaufort was closed for a slightly longer period, opening about 12 days ago. Ming Wang, who manages only the Bluffton restaurant, said he did not know how many new employees the Beaufort location hired or from where. Attempts to reach a supervisor at the Beaufort location were unsuccessful Wednesday and Thursday.

Beaufort County and Beaufort officials said Wednesday the restaurants are properly licensed and have paid applicable fees.
The charges against Zi Tong Wang and 14 of his employees on March 24 followed a yearlong investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and the sheriff's ICE Task Force into allegations that illegal immigrants had been hired at the restaurants, officials have said.

Zi Tong Wang, a 33-year-old Chinese national, was charged April 14 with hiring, harboring and transporting illegal aliens. If convicted, he could face a $250,000 fine and 10 years in federal prison.

Federal authorities say Zi Tong Wang negotiated to hire waitresses and dishwashers smuggled into the U.S. from China and Latin America, housed them in a trailer he owned in Burton and paid them little.

Zi Tong Wang already was considered an ICE fugitive after failing to comply with a 1998 voluntary-departure order issued by a federal judge.

Federal court records suggest authorities began investigating Zi Tong Wang and his restaurants after a tip from an unnamed local law-enforcement officer who frequented the Beaufort restaurant. The officer befriended Wang's sister, who told him the restaurant's Chinese waitresses were in the country illegally and paid only in tips left by customers, according to federal court records.

The woman told the officer the women were smuggled into New York City at a cost of more than $50,000, a debt she or her family would have to pay off in $3,000 monthly increments to the smuggler, the records said.

She told the officer that she or Wang would often call a business in New York to arrange for women to be brought to waitress at the restaurants, according to court documents. The workers were all housed in a trailer Wang owned on Miranda Circle in Burton and driven by the restaurant's head cook to and from work each day.

Wang made similar arrangements with smugglers in Atlanta to hire Hispanic male dishwashers, the woman said.
Ming Wang said the workers were not mistreated.

"They lived together," Ming Wang said. "It's not making sense. It sounds like we were enslaving them, but it's nothing like that. We really treat them good."

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