Restaurant owners plead guilty to separate charges after human trafficking probe

CELINA — A husband and wife accused of filing false tax reports for their Celina Chinese restaurant in connection to a human trafficking probe pleaded guilty to charges.

Kang Yong Chen and his wife, Mei Yu Zheng, pleaded guilty to three counts of tampering with records in September, according to Mercer County Common Pleas Court records.

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Two counts of telecommunications fraud were dismissed.

As part of their sentencing, they were ordered to comply with a separate negotiated settlement investigating involving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.

We are working to learn more about the separate case.

They were also ordered to pay $30 each in reparations, according to court records.

Chen and Zhang were accused filing tax reports that listed fewer employees than actually employed at their restaurant, China Wok Buffet.

The tax reports were filed in October 2017, July 2018 and October 2018.

Investigators in the case observed more people working at the restaurant than listed in the tax documents, according to court records.

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The investigation into Chen and Zheng began after a Vandalia police detective sent in a tip about possible human trafficking, according to a request filed by the prosecution to join their cases.

During the investigation, it was determined that people of Asian of Middle Eastern descent were being dropped off at a Vandalia business and being picked up by various vehicles, according to court records.

The defense objected to the request to join Chen and Zheng’s cases, claiming that the motion had “prejudicial, inflammatory” statements and that it had “information that does not pertain to the charges.”

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“Mr. Chen and Ms. Zheng have not been charged with any type of offense that would be considered human trafficking,” read the motion. “However, the state feels the need to attempt to influence potential jurors and the public into believing Mr. Chen and Ms. Zheng are involved in human trafficking.”

The defense specifically cited the prosecution’s first sentence in the motion: “Human trafficking takes many forms, one of which is labor trafficking.”

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