A Waterville woman who formerly managed a Chinese restaurant in Brewer was sentenced Tuesday to 15 months in federal prison on immigration, money laundering and tax fraud charges.

Mei Ya Zhang, 29, was the fourth person to be sentenced as the result of a federal investigation that culminated in raids at several Chinese restaurants in Maine in 2011.

Federal and local investigators said Zhang’s aunt and uncle, Zi Qian Zhang and his wife, Ai Hui Lu, for whom Zhang had been working, were hiding undocumented workers from the government in squalid, unheated and cramped living conditions and then drove them to their restaurants to work long hours.

The elder Zhang and Lu owned about a dozen restaurants in Maine and other New England states, federal officials said at the time of the raids. Another niece, Mei Juan Zhang, 31, of Fairfield, was sentenced to a 14 month prison term on similar charges involving two Waterville restaurants in March and is an inmate at a federal prison in Danbury, Conn.

According to court records, between 2006 and 2011, Mei Ya Zhang was the manager of the Twin Super Buffet in Brewer, where she brought undocumented workers into Maine, had them work six days a week for eight to 10.5 hours per day.

The investigation found she hid about $400,000 in wages paid to the workers and “thwarted the collection of about $88,000 in employment taxes” while managing a Chinese buffet in Brewer, according to the release.

Zhang was also ordered by Judge John Woodcock to pay more than $88,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and to serve three years of supervised release following her prison sentence.

She housed the workers in squalid conditions at a residence on Elm Street in Brewer, transported them back and forth each day to work and filed numerous false tax returns that didn’t list the workers or their wages.

Mei Ya Zhang pleaded guilty June 5, 2013, to harboring undocumented immigrants for commercial advantage and private financial gain, money laundering conspiracy, and conspiracy to file false employer’s quarterly federal tax returns.

Both women were arrested following November, 2011 raids on restaurants operated by the Zhang family in Waterville, Brewer, Lewiston and Portland, federal officials said.


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