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Reportedly recruited and took advantage of Chinese workers

By Brett Kelman HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 5, 2011) – The owner of a construction company that allegedly tricked immigrant workers to come to Guam for illegally low wages and long hours faces a lengthy list of charges in federal court.

Steven Wang, who started the company Hua Sheng International Group Corp. in 2007, was charged with 124 counts of federal crimes in a Dec. 22 indictment unsealed yesterday.

Wang pleaded not guilty after he was arrested yesterday, according to District Court of Guam records. He was released without paying any bail after he vowed to return to court for trial on March 8.

Wang faces allegations that include visa fraud, money laundering, the harboring of illegal aliens and mail fraud, according to the indictment.

The allegations are the result of a two-year investigation, which included many local and federal authorities, U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco said yesterday during a press conference.

Limtiaco said Wang allegedly recruited immigrant workers to Guam by advertising Hua Sheng jobs in China, offering US$11 per hour. Wang allegedly submitted applications to the Department of Labor for the immigrant workers, but those documents didn't accurately reflect how much they would be paid or what work they would do.

"After the foreign workers received their H-2B visas and had been admitted to Guam, Wang paid them an illegal wage of approximately US$5.50 per hour, caused them to work 10-hour days, seven days a week, and illegally charged them US$1,000 per month for the first 10 months after the aliens' arrivals, which was deducted from the wages owed them," Limtiaco said.

According to the indictment, the workers were employed as carpenters and concrete masons. If you subtract the alleged deductions from the wages included in the indictment, they would have earned about US$500 a month.

It's not clear if they even got that money.

The indictment states Wang would allegedly write checks to the workers knowing there wasn't enough money in the bank to cover them. Also, instead of paying workers their entitled wages, Wang allegedly would wire the money to bank accounts in China.

The indictment also states Wang would "farm out" his workers for US$110 a day to companies who hadn't applied to use immigrant workers of their own. Wang allegedly would keep half of that money and give the rest to the workers.

Wang's attorney, Julie Rosete, couldn't be reached for comment despite calls to her office.

In April 2009, about 20 disgruntled Hua Sheng workers marched from their barracks in Yigo to the Guam Department of Labor office in Hagåtña. They reported they had been underpaid for six months, according to Pacific Daily News files.

The march sparked an investigation, which led labor officials to discover that Hua Sheng was supposed to send the workers back to China months beforehand. The company was ordered to pay the workers and send them home.

The recent indictment states Wang allegedly kept 62 workers in Guam after their visas had expired. The indictment doesn't state specifically how many workers were allegedly mistreated with illegal wages and long hours.

A month after the workers marched in 2009, the Pacific Daily News ran a front-page story on the life of the Hua Sheng immigrant workers, who were housed in half-built barracks that had no doors or hot water.

About 40 men stayed in the Yigo barracks, waiting for back wages.

The barracks were made of concrete blocks, plywood and tin. Water leaked through the roof into buckets on the floor and extension cords brought power from a nearby building.

The workers were interviewed by the Pacific Daily News, but asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation against their families in China.

"We never thought it would be like this, said one worker from Nantong. The U.S. is a free country they have rights here."

Two months after that story was published, the Guam Contractors Licensing Board revoked Hua Sheng's contractor's license. Three months after that, federal prosecutors began work to seize 13 properties that were allegedly derived from Hua Sheng's fraud.

In March, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Hua Sheng US$139,500 for unsafe living and working conditions, including a failure to provide clean water employees.

Yesterday, Limtiaco declined to comment on whether the Pacific Daily News story on the Hua Sheng's immigrant workers sparked or spotlighted the investigation that led to Wang's recent indictment.

But Limtiaco said a message was sent.

The military buildup will boost Guam's population in the next few years attracting many civilian and immigrant workers so crimes such as immigration fraud and human trafficking for sex and labor are expected to increase, Limtiaco said.

"We have been made aware that there are thousands of laborers that will be taking on these projects, and so the message to the community is not to abuse the labor force. We are not going to sit back and allow abuses to occur with our labor force," Limtiaco said.

Robert Robertson, resident agent-in-charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said it was a priority of the Homeland Security investigations to target companies who violated these laws.

"Employers who knowingly employ unauthorized workers and engage in related crimes such as visa fraud and alien harboring need to know that there will be serious consequences for these actions, Robertson said. Targeting individuals and businesses that knowingly hire unauthorized workers is a key to protecting jobs for Guam's lawful work force and reducing the demand for illegal, alien labor."

The investigation included cooperation from the federal and local Departments of Labor, Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service, Limtiaco said.

According to the indictment, federal prosecutors are working to seize two properties in Ordot-Chalan Pago from Wang because they believe the properties are connected to profits from his alleged fraud. If they properties can't be forfeited, prosecutors have listed 12 others that could be used as a substitute.

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