Federal authorities are seeking the arrest of the operator of a Chinatown-based home renovations company that they allege is involved with human trafficking.
Authorities claim the company moved huge sums of money between Philadelphia and China to illegally transport and shelter undocumented immigrants.
Yong Zheng, 60, originally from the Fujian province on China’s southeastern coast, started a construction company in Philadelphia decades ago, according to authorities, and developed a relationship with “snakeheads,” as human smugglers are known in China.
Authorities claim Zheng smuggled people into Philadelphia from China, giving them a place to live, jobs with his construction business and a “very minimum amount of money for food.”
In a typical case, authorities said, a Chinese family — or the smuggled person — would make a down payment to be illegally transported to Philadelphia to work for Zheng. Once here, the person would work to pay off the remaining fee. Authorities say it could take seven years of work before the debt was paid in full.
In 2006, according to court documents, Zheng began offering Western Union money transfers from the storefront of his small construction business.
According to the federal Department of Homeland Security, about $150 million moved from the U.S. to China through the business in just a few years. Some of that money, federal officials say, went to snakeheads as smuggling fees.
One of the undocumented immigrants, known as “MZ” to investigators, paid the Chinese snakeheads more than $61,000 in just one year, according to records included in the court filings.
It’s unclear how much of the $150 million that was transferred to China went to human traffickers.
A sign posted on the door of Zheng’s store stated that the business would be closed on Friday, the same day the affidavit supporting Zheng’s arrest was made public.
Little is known about the clients of Zheng’s home renovations business, but one review for Hong Fai on Yelp stated: “This place seems to do multiple things, including flooring and tile work and maybe also money orders and also selling phone cards. Another thing they do is post help wanted ads in their store for the local community.”
Federal Homeland Security agents have arrested four undocumented immigrants who worked for Zheng’s company. And they’re seeking the arrest of Zheng on charges that he harbored undocumented immigrants and mailed false employment information to state officials.
In 1990, Zheng came to the U.S. with a fake passport, according to authorities. Since then, he has been arrested, but released, over multiple immigration paperwork violations.
In the court filing, U.S. Homeland Security Special Agent John Hedrick wrote, “this affidavit does not include every fact known to me concerning this investigation.”