The owners of a restaurant at St. Johns Town Center have pleaded guilty in federal court to violations of immigration law.
Min Lin, 35, and He Ying Qiu, 46, owners of Sushi House, will be sentenced for harboring illegal aliens for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain.
Each faces up to 10 years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
According to their plea agreements, Lin and Qiu are married and own and operate the restaurant.
Working on a tip from the public, federal agents conducted a five-month investigation and determined that employees were being transported in a van, driven by Qiu, between the restaurant and a residence at Countryside Village mobile home park at 10960 Beach Blvd., owned by Lin.
On Jan. 29, officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office stopped the van as it was leaving the restaurant after it closed.
Qiu was driving the van and Lin was the front seat passenger. Four people in the van appeared to be illegally in the U.S., according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida.
On June 5, search warrants were executed at Sushi House and two residences owned by Lin. Before the warrants were served, a JSO officer stopped the van Qiu was driving near the restaurant. Two of the passengers, who also were in the van during the January stop, were found to be living in the country illegally.
When a search warrant was executed at the couple’s townhome at 4452 Capital Drive, another two people living in the U.S. illegally. were found.
In addition, $9,307 in cash was seized at the townhome.
Upon questioning, each of the four stated that they worked at Sushi House and were paid in cash with no taxes withheld from their pay.
They told investigators that they lived at the residence, but did not pay rent, that Qiu transported them to and from work and that neither Lin nor Qiu had asked them to provide documents to prove that they were legally authorized to work in the U.S.
Employers are required by law to obtain such documents before hiring any employee.
As part of their plea agreements, Lin and Qiu will forfeit the 10-year-old mobile home, the 2017 Honda Odyssey van they had used to transport the undocumented employees and the cash seized at their home.
The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Arnold Corsmeier.