Trial continued for Celina couple arrested in connection with human trafficking probe

Published: Thursday, April 25, 2019 @ 1:23 PM
Updated: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 @ 12:39 AM

Kang Yong Chen, left, and Mei Yu Zheng(MERCER COUNTY JAIL)
Kang Yong Chen, left, and Mei Yu Zheng(MERCER COUNTY JAIL)

The trial for former owners of a Celina Chinese restaurant who were arrested in connection with a human trafficking investigation and charged with tampering with evidence has been continued.

Kang Young Chen and Mei Yu Zheng, husband and wife, are facing felonious tampering with evidence and telecommunications fraud charges. according to Mercer County court records.

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The pair instead have an attorney conference. The trial date has not been rescheduled at this time.

Chen and Zheng were arrested Sept. 5 in connection to a human trafficking investigation, but are not facing any trafficking charges.

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 documents.

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“The individuals were inappropriately dressed for the weather and had little or no baggage with them,” the record read.

One person was a woman dropped off on June 21 and picked up by Chen and Zheng’s daughter.

She reportedly drove the woman to Celina, dropped her off and then went to her parents’ home.

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.”

“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.”

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

During the investigation into Cheng and Zheng, investigators allegedly found that there were three people working at their restaurant who were not on the payroll.

In payroll records filed by the restaurant, the 2017 third quarter tax report showed eight employees total, including Chen, Zheng and their daughter. 

An investigator reported that on June 27, 2017, there were four males and three females working at the restaurant in addition to Chen and Zheng, the affidavit stated.

The 2018 second quarterly tax report included the names and wages paid for eight employees, including Chen, Zheng and their two children.

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“Surveillance conducted during the second quarter of 2018 revealed that six additional workers were employed at the restaurant. ... A review of the business bank records has also revealed that only Kang Yong Chen and Mei Yu Zheng were receiving checks that could be considered payroll during the second quarter of 2018,” read court documents.