Restaurateur pleads guilty to human trafficking
Denver Business Journal
Date: Wednesday, October 27, 2010, 7:38pm MDT …A Boulder restaurateur has pleaded guilty to human trafficking and tax-dodging charges that could send him to prison for years before he’s deported to his native Thailand, the U.S. Attorney’s office said Wednesday.
Opas Sinprasong, 52, pleaded guilty to one count of harboring illegal aliens and one count of failing to pay taxes on work done by immigrants he brought to the country to work as off-the-books indentured employees at three Thai and sushi restaurants he ran in Boulder County, prosecutors said.
Sinprasong will forfeit to law enforcement $766,000 and two residential properties. He may be made to pay restitution to his former employees as well.
“Those who break our laws to take advantage of vulnerable alien workers in order to enrich themselves will face dire criminal and financial consequences,” John Walsh, U.S. Attorney for Colorado, said in a statement.
Sinprasong ran the Siamese Plate, Sumidas, and Siamese Plate on the Go restaurants in Boulder, Louisville, and Broomfield. A grand jury indicted him in February.
Between 2001 and 2008, prosecutors say, Sinprasong obtained speciality two-year occupation visas for workers he brought from Thailand. The workers were charged the equivalent of $4,500 to pay a “bond” and a fee for visa preparation, prosecutors said.
Workers were made to take shifts off-the-books for three or four months to work off a portion of the money before being made documented workers at the restaurants. Once the employees were placed officially on Sinprasong’s payroll — having Social Security numbers and payroll taxes withdrawn from their pay — he made them put in unpaid overtime, usually 26 to 32 hours weekly, to pay off the remainder of what they owed.
The contracts workers signed made relatives in Thailand liable to Sinprasong for penalties equalling about $18,000 if the worker left the restaurant before Sinprasong was repaid.
He avoided paying taxes on the off-the-books work; he also filed false immigration papers and harbored illegal immigrants through the scheme, prosecutors said.
“Ultimately, the details of this case show that Opas Sinprasong stacked the deck to make an illegal profit,” said Kumar C. Kibble, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Homeland Security Investigations. “These investigations and prosecutions help ensure that America lives up to its reputation as the beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.”
Sinprasong was in the United States on an E-2 visa granted to investors who take a controlling interest in a domestic company.
He faces prison sentences of up to 10 years and 5 years, respectively, on the immigration and tax charges. Each count carries a fine of up to $250,000.
The investigation included Denver offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the IRS Criminal Investigations units. James Hearty, chief of the major crimes section of the U.S. Attorney’s office for Colorado, prosecuted Sinprasong.