A Mexican citizen faces an immigration-related charge following raids at Chinese restaurants and so-called “safe houses” earlier this week.

Walter Cruz Sanchez-Amira, 24, was charged with unlawful presence in the United States after having been previously removed from the country. Authorities found him while executing a search warrant at the Twin Super Buffet in Brewer and an associated residence this week.

Federal authorities executed nine search warrants Wednesday at four Chinese restaurants in Maine where illegal aliens had allegedly been employed and five homes where they were allegedly residing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In addition to Sanchez-Amira, nine male employees were administratively arrested for being illegally present in the United States. Three were from Guatemala, one from China, four from Mexico and one from Honduras.

Agents also found another 13 employees who had no authorization to work in the United States.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark would not identify the others arrested or those who had no authorization to be in the United States, or say where any of them had been working or living.

According to a complaint filed in federal court this week, the raids were tied to an investigation into an organization believed to be employing illegal aliens and housing them in sub-standard conditions.

Zi Qian Zhang of Massachusetts was identified as the leader of the organization, and federal and state law enforcement agencies are also investigating his wife, Ai Hui Lu, owner of Kon Asian Bistro in Portland, and other individuals.

It’s believed that the couple, who live in Swansea, Mass., own at least 12 Asian restaurants in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Authorities contend the Zhang organization has been employing illegal aliens at the restaurants, transporting them between the restaurants and “safe houses,” and using money from the businesses to make mortgage payments on the properties.

In Waterville, police Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey confirmed Friday that local police aided U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during a raid at 7 Oak St..

“We did have some people assist,” said Rumsey, who said the department provided a local enforcement presence. “Once (federal agents) made entry and there were no issues, we cleared the scene.”

The Oak Street house had been condemned in December 2008 by Waterville’s code enforcement officer. Officials said it had no heat, broken water pipes, serious electrical violations and shattered windows.

Tina Chen, manager of the Super China Buffet in Waterville raided Wednesday, also managed Grand Asian Buffet in 2008. The Super China Buffet is in the same building where the Grand Asian Buffet once operated.

Chen and other restaurant employees lived at the Oak Street home when it was condemned.

Chen and Tony Jan have managed Super China Buffet since 2009.

“We own two houses for our staff to share – it’s part of their pay,” Chen said at the time. “We give them transportation to and from work. Most stay for a year to one-and-a-half years and then move on.”

Jan said at the time that he met Chen while working at her uncle’s restaurant in Arkansas.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the main investigative branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, removes illegal aliens from the country.

The Morning Sentinel contributed to this story. 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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