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Judge: Guam contractor treated workers ‘like slaves’

HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) —   Steven Wang, the contractor who subjected hundreds of non-immigrant foreign workers to “slave-like” conditions, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison on Wednesday.

A Tamuning resident, Wang previously pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including mail fraud, visa fraud, money laundering and willful failure to remit taxes withheld from workers’ paychecks.

According to court documents, from 2005 to 2009, Wang, 53, paid hundreds of workers, who were petitioned on H-2B work visas, significantly lower than the legal minimum wage and what they were expecting to have received before leaving China.

“These were men who had hopes of being able to provide for their families back home and making a decent wage,” said Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood of the District Court of Guam. “It really does appear that he treated them like slaves.”

Multiple federal offices interviewed former Wang employees, who unanimously testified to not being paid for their work and being forced to live in substandard conditions at their barracks, which did not have water or electricity.

He also is accused of illegally deducting $1,000 of his workers’ monthly wages for 10 months for food, housing and medical benefits, of which some workers have said they could not avail.

“One worker, Li Xin Ming, fell out of the back of a truck and suffered injuries — to this day he can only take on light work,” said U.S. Probation Officer Maria Cruz, who conducted more than 30 interviews with former Wang employees. “His fellow workers said they went to the defendant to seek medical treatment. But he was denied.”

Employers of H-2B workers are only allowed to deduct approximately $320 from their monthly wages. Anything more than that requires approval from the Guam Department of Labor, according Greg Massey, administrator of the department’s Alien Labor Processing and Certification Division.

Upon his release, Wang will have to serve three years of supervised released and will have to pay more than $1.9 million in restitution to victims in the case and the Internal Revenue Service.

“I will pay the money very slowly, after I finish my jail time,” Wang said with the help of a court interpreter. “I’m very sorry for the unnecessary trouble I caused.”

His defense attorney, Louie Yanza, said his client didn’t have the funds to pay his employees. But Tydingco-Gatewood pointed out that financial documents showed Wang made multiple deposits to numerous banks in Guam during the time period authorities investigated.

The case against Wang is nearly seven years old. Authorities wondered whether his sentencing, which is quite substantial, would make him a flight risk if he were allowed to self-surrender.

The U.S. government suggested he be remanded to U.S. Marshals, but the chief judge gave the defendant until Friday to sort his personal affairs and spend time with family before turning himself over to authorities.

In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said:

“This case demonstrates the importance of combined federal and local enforcement efforts to uphold the integrity of the H-2B visa program. The Hua Sheng workers suffered substantial financial losses as a result of Wang’s conduct. The court’s sentencing order sends a strong message of accountability that these workers deserve.

“The Guam business community continues to face difficulties in hiring qualified United States workers. The ability of employers to seek temporary relief though the H-2B visa program is diminished by those who engage in dishonest business practices that poison the foreign labor pools on which the program relies. This case further demonstrates the ongoing commitment by the Department of Justice to promote lawfulness in our immigration system.”

The investigation was conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations; Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation; Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage & Hour Division working together with Guam Department of Labor. The case was prosecuted by Stephen F. Leon Guerrero, an assistant United States attorney for the District of Guam.

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/96302-judge-guam-contractor-treated-workers-like-slaves

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