Thirty-two people are indicted for allegedly supplying undocumented workers to Chinese restaurants.

An alleged immigrant smuggling ring based in Houston supplied undocumented workers from Latin America to Chinese restaurants in Brewer, according to federal officials, but they did not name the restaurants.

Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas unsealed two indictments Thursday against 32 people allegedly involved in recruiting undocumented workers from Central America and Mexico and transporting them to restaurants in the United States, where they worked long hours for less than minimum wage and sometimes lived in squalid conditions.

The indictments say workers were supplied to restaurants in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas, but the route stretched all the way to Maine.

The indictments said the group transported the workers to the Brewer restaurants Nov. 4 and 8, 2010, and between Nov. 4, 2010, and Nov. 30, 2011.

Many of the restaurants that benefited from the illegal workers were named but the two Chinese restaurants in Brewer that allegedly used the employment service were not named.

Asked about the omission, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in eastern Texas said it was intentional and may have been because nobody now at those restaurants had been charged, but she couldn’t say for certain.

An online telephone directory lists three Chinese restaurants in Brewer, but the telephone number for two of them has been disconnected.

One of the two closed restaurants, Twin Super Buffet, shut down a year ago after repeated raids by immigration officials. The owner was charged with employing and harboring undocumented workers. The workforce included many men from Central America. The complaint said only that the workers had been brought from other cities in the Northeast.

That 2011 complaint makes no mention of an employment agency in Houston and the cases may not be related. Several other restaurants in Maine also were raided during that crackdown but no other Maine restaurants were mentioned in Thursday’s announcement.

The Hong Li and the Tai Shan employment agencies were competitors in Houston that both provided workers, mostly from Mexico and Central America, to Chinese restaurants in Texas, Louisiana, Maine and other states, authorities said.

According to the indictments, the two agencies used Chinese language newspapers and Internet sites to solicit the restaurants and “offer Hispanic unauthorized alien workers, commonly referred to in this context as ‘amigos,’ to them.”

Officials estimate that in the 10 years the agencies operated, they supplied restaurants with hundreds of workers who cost less than hiring local labor would have. It’s alleged that the workers often labored 12-hour days, six days a week. The agencies are also accused of housing the immigrants in cramped homes and apartments and transporting them to restaurants in various states. Each of the indictments named 16 people from each employment agency. The indictments – handed down in November and unsealed Thursday – came after a more than three-year investigation by ICE agents. Most of the individuals indicted are immigrants from China legally living in the U.S.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]