Two people were sentenced Tuesday for their roles in harboring people in the county without permission that worked at popular Chinese buffets in Gulfport and D'Iberville.
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 Nov. 16, 2022.
Hui Weng was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, a $10,000 fine and $5,100 in special assessments.
Yun Mei Weng, who is a permanent resident alien of the U.S., was sentenced to five years of federal probation and a $5,000 fine.
Federal officials determined that the Wengs were hiring and harboring multiple people from Central America who were in the U.S. without permission. They worked in the back of the Panda Palace restaurants in D'Iberville and Gulfport washing dishes, cooking and cleaning. The employees in the front, visible parts of the restaurants were lawful employees, officials said.
The Wengs provided housing for the employees at two locations, including one rented house in Gulfport and another house in D'Iberville. The Wengs also provided transportation back and forth between the harboring houses and the Panda Palace Buffet restaurants.
Homeland Security Investigations received information as early as August 2019 that the Panda Palace Buffet was hiring and harboring as employees people in the county without permission.
On March 10, 2020, search warrants were served on both Panda Palace locations and the two houses being used as housing for the workers. Multiple workers, including one 17-year-old, were found, including four adult aliens who had unlawfully returned to the United States after being removed. These workers entered or remained in the U.S. in violation of law.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General also joined in the investigation. HSI determined that 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 Yun Mei Weng. Her husband, the late Sheng Bin Weng, managed the Panda Palace Buffet in D'Iberville.
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 people in the county without permission.
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.