February 1, 2023

Gulfport man and woman sentenced in connection with harboring of illegal immigrants

Darkhorse Press

A Gulfport man was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, a $10,000 fine and $5,100 in special assessments for harboring illegal aliens within the United States.

Additionally, a Chinese citizen, who is a Permanent Resident Alien of the U.S. and had been living in Gulfport, was sentenced to 5 years of federal probation and a $5,000 fine for misprision of a felony regarding the harboring of illegal aliens. Both of the defendants also were ordered to forfeit to the United States a house and land in D’Iberville which had been used to harbor the aliens.

Hui Weng, 41, of Gulfport, and Yun Mei Weng, a Chinese national living in Gulfport, were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.  The two were convicted after pleading guilty on November 16, 2022.

Beginning at least by August 2019, Homeland Security Investigations received information that the Panda Palace Buffet was illegally hiring and harboring as employees, aliens unlawfully present in the United States, at its Gulfport and D’Iberville locations. The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, also joined in the investigation.  HSI determined that Mr. Hui Weng had been working at or managing the Panda Palace Buffet in Gulfport.  Although the facilities were rented, the owner of the equipment was Mrs. Yun Mei Weng.  Mrs. Weng’s husband, the late Mr. Sheng Bin Weng, managed the Panda Palace Buffet in D’Iberville.

From their investigation, federal officials determined that the Wengs were hiring and harboring multiple illegal aliens from Central America who worked in the back of the restaurants washing dishes, cooking, cleaning, etc.  The employees in the front, visible parts of the restaurants were lawful employees.  In addition to hiring the illegal aliens, the Wengs provided housing for the aliens at two locations, including one rented house in Gulfport and another house in D’Iberville. The Wengs also provided transportation for the aliens back and forth between the harboring houses and the Panda Palace Buffet restaurant locations in D’Iberville and Gulfport.

On March 10, 2020, search warrants were served on both Panda Palace locations and the two houses being used as housing for illegal alien workers.  Multiple illegal alien workers (including one 17 year-old minor at the Gulfport Panda Palace) were found, including four adult aliens who had unlawfully returned to the United States after being lawfully removed.  These workers entered or remained in the U.S. in violation of law.

U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca, Special Agent in Charge David L. Denton of Homeland Security Investigations in New Orleans, and Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Kelly Linemann of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta, made the announcement.

U.S. Attorney LaMarca praised the investigative efforts and coordination of Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stan Harris was the prosecutor for the case.

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