The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office arrested three suspects for human trafficking at the Vegas Buffet in Waco on Monday.
According to the affidavit, one of the suspects, Peng Li, was arrested for engaging in an organized criminal activity. The other two suspects, Zhi Lin and Ya Li Yang, were arrested for continuous smuggling of persons, a second-degree felony.
One of the victims said that she and seven other Guatemalan men worked 13 hours a day and were only paid $6.41 an hour. The affidavit said that the money they made would be paid back to Li for entry fees into the U.S. The workers had five years to pay $80,000.
Sheriff Parnell McNamara with the McLennan County Sheriff's Office said they seized thousands of dollars worth of cars, shoes and other valuables during the arrest, along with $20,000 in cash.
"These people are lowlifes any way you look at it," said McNamara. "They're making a lot of money and they're preying on individuals that want to be over here for a better life."
The victim said she was threatened by Li, and she was fired because he was withholding her pay. Once fired, they did not give her a ride back to the apartment, where she and the other seven Guatemalan men stayed.
Li called the victim while she was conducting an interview with a detective and told her he already had a replacement for her, and she needed to get her things out of the apartment.
After interviewing the victim, detective Joseph Scaramucci and detective Russell went into Vegas Buffet and found that all of the information given to them by the victim was true, according to the affidavit.
The employees would work six days a week, and their wages were routinely held. Some employees were not paid in months. The detectives also found the seven Guatemalan men working in the kitchen along with a 15-year-old boy. According to the affidavit, three of the men have been deported before.
The detectives along with seven other law enforcement agencies helped take the suspects into custody.
The victims are now working with Unbound to explore their options.
"We want to get them in a safe place to stay, a program that can meet all the needs that they have and to set them up so they understand and know what their rights are in this situation," said Jessica Foran, director of survivor advocacy with Unbound.
Foran said they spend anywhere from days to years working with these victims. She said a number of them have already accepted help and are figuring out what their next step is.
Li, Yang and Lin were arrested and are in McLennan County Jail. Li has bonded out, but Yang and Lin are being held without bond.
Sheriff McNamara said the investigation is ongoing and this won't be the last warrant they serve.
"We're not going to let up and we're going to keep the heat turned up on these people," Sheriff McNamara said. "You can count on that."
The Waco-McLennan County Health District said the restaurant is closed and that the permit has been temporarily suspended as they continue to work on the case.
Hearings for both Lin and Yang were set for June 14.
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