TROUBLES AT IPI CASINO SITE CONTINUE
Three indicted for alleged scheme
U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona unsealed yesterday an indictment against three persons who allegedly conspired to hire unauthorized alien workers to work at the Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC’s casino/resort project in Garapan.
The indictment charged Liwen Wu, also known as Peter Wu; Jianmin Xu; and Yan Shi, with one count of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act conspiracy, one count of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, 32 counts of harboring illegal aliens, 32 counts of unlawful employment of aliens, and five counts of international promotional money laundering.
U.S. Attorney for Guam and the CNMI Shawn N. Anderson and U.S. Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Gang Section chief David L. Jaffe signed the superseding indictment and filed on Aug. 1, 2019. The court unsealed the superseding indictment yesterday.
The original indictment was filed on March 27, 2018. It named only Wu and Xu as defendants.
When sought for comments, IPI issued a statement saying it respects the rule of law and will continue to focus on the completion of the casino/resort project and contribute to the CNMI’s economic growth.
IPI said it has assisted the federal agencies with the investigation and will continue to assist in any ongoing investigation.
According to the indictment, Wu was a senior executive for IPI and Worldwide Asia Engineering Limited, or WWA, and manager of Marianas Enterprises Limited, or MEP.
WWA was a company incorporated in Hong Kong. In August 2015, WWA contracted with IPI to recruit and supply workers for the casino construction project.
MEP, a company incorporated in the CNMI, was wholly owned by IPI and performed services for IPI and its contractors, including recruitment, importation, housing, and transportation of foreign workers.
Xu acted as a senior executive for IPI.
Shi was a project supervisor for MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co.
MCC, a company incorporated in the CNMI, was a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Metallurgical Group Corp., a state-owned business incorporated in the People’s Republic of China.
There were four unindicted co-conspirators who are all Chinese nationals. One was a senior executive for IPI and WWA, the second was a senior executive for IPI Hong Kong, and the third was a senior executive for MCC China.
The fourth was a senior executive for MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co, who, on Sept. 25, 2017, pleaded guilty to one count of a pattern and practice of unlawful employment of aliens.
The scheme allegedly lasted through at least March 2017 and resulted in an influx of more than 600 illegal workers into the IPI worksite, many of whom were inexperienced or not qualified to perform their assigned tasks.
Availing of the CW-1 program, as well as the jurisdiction’s comparably low wage rates, IPI, MCC CNMI, and the other contractors allegedly chose to import nearly all of their employees from China instead of hiring U.S. citizens or otherwise eligible foreign nationals.
However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services limited the number of CW-1 visas for the project’s companies to several hundred.
Beginning as early as September 2015, Wu, Xu, and “unindicted co-conspirator one” allegedly pressured MCC CNMI to accelerate work, threatening to impose fines if the contractors failed to meet deadlines.
As part of the pressure, Wu, Xu, and “unindicted co-conspirator one” implicitly ordered MCC CNMI to hire unauthorized alien workers, referred to informally as heigong, which is Mandarin for “black worker.”
In addition to hiring workers who were already present in the CNMI, living either illegally or present with non-working visas, Wu, Xu, and “unindicted co-conspirator one” encouraged, authorized, and instructed MCC CNMI to import workers from China using the Conditional Parole Program.
To do this, Wu, Xu, “unindicted co-conspirator one,” Shi, and “unindicted co-conspirator three and four,” and other foreign contractors instigated a plan to deceive the U.S. Customs and Border Protection by instructing prospective hires in China to lie to immigration inspectors, claiming they wished to enter the CNMI as tourists under the Conditional Parole Program.
Over the next year, in response to heightened scrutiny by CBP inspectors, defendants and the four unindicted co-conspirators promulgated increasingly elaborate schemes of deception, including providing costumes and backstories to hired workers, as well as pairing them with existing female employees in China.
The female employees posed as the illegal foreign workers’ spouses or girlfriends in exchange for paid vacations to the CNMI.
In addition to reimbursing MCC CNMI and other contractors for the illegal workers’ salaries, Wu, Xu and “unindicted co-conspirator one” also purchased plane tickets and paid other expenses for the illegal workers and their fake spouses or girlfriends.
Once in the CNMI, the aliens worked without authorization, receiving their wages either in cash or via electronic transfer between bank accounts in China. Most remained in the CNMI long after their Conditional Parole status expired.
Shi and the unindicted “co-conspirators three and four,” and other contractors invoiced IPI to pay their workers, both legal and illegal. These invoices distinguished legal and illegal workers, with illegal workers receiving wages lower than legal workers, and almost always below the minimum wage.
Upon receiving an invoice, IPI or IPI Hong Kong reimbursed MCC CNMI by check or wire transfer to and from accounts in China and the CNMI.
IPI Hong Kong and IPI also wired money to MEP to transport, feed, and house legal and illegal foreign workers together at a compound in Tanapag, as well as in hotels and other rented properties around Saipan.
Throughout the course of the scheme, the defendants and unindicted four co-conspirators took active measures to conceal the illegal workers from local and federal authorities, including immigration, labor, and safety inspectors.
The defendants and the four unindicted co-conspirators allegedly constituted an enterprise to reduce labor costs by inducing aliens to travel to the U.S. for the purpose of encouraging them to enter and remain in the U.S. in violation of U.S. laws.
The other purpose is to avoid complying with immigration and labor laws of the U.S. through the use of fraud and deceit, and to avoid taxes and penalties that would be imposed by the federal and CNMI governments for violating the immigration, labor, and other laws through fraud and deceit.
Members and associates of the enterprise hired, employed, harbored, and induced foreign workers to enter the U.S. illegally for the purpose of completing construction of the casino project.
Members and associates of the enterprise evaded and violated wage and labor laws by directing illegal foreign workers to obtain and turn over information for bank accounts in China. In this way, wage payments could be made entirely within China and thereby evade U.S. regulators.
Allegedly, members and associates of the enterprise hid the location of illegal foreign workers to defraud the U.S. as to their true immigration status. Members and associates of the enterprise also taught and trained these illegal foreign workers to deceive U.S. agencies.
Members and associates of the enterprise financed the illegal foreign workers’ travel from China to the CNMI, transportation within the CNMI, accommodations, food, and other expenses.
The defendants and others aiding them concealed, harbored, and shielded from detection 32 illegal aliens. They also employed the 32 illegal aliens.
On money laundering, the defendants and others allegedly made four money transfers in 2016 and one in 2017, with a total amount of $24,285,935.