Two former Chinese diplomats brought workers to the U.S. from China, seized their passports and forced them to work illegally on construction sites, federal authorities claim in an indictment that was unsealed in Brooklyn Federal Court on Thursday.
Dan Zhong, who served at the Chinese consulate in New York between 2001 and 2006, and Landong Wang, who worked at the Chinese Embassy in Washington from 2001 to 2007, are accused of bringing the workers out on diplomatic visas over the past six years, purportedly to do repair work on Chinese government buildings. However, according to the indictment, they were forced to work on private projects and threatened with the loss of their homes in China if they refused.
The workers did perform some work at diplomatic missions, but Zhong and Wang are accused of forcing the workers into “debt bondage contracts” and making them toil on at least two private homes in Queens and on Long Island, the New York Times reported.
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Prosecutors say Zhong is the president of U.S Rilin Corp, an affiliate of Chinese Billionaire Wang Wenliang’s China Rilin Construction Group, according to a Reuters report from last month.
In one instance, according to court documents, Zhong and Wang agreed to pay a worker a base salary of around $1,180, but required a cash deposit of around $22,000. They said the workers would be sent back to China if the contract’s provisions were broken. Those provisions were that the workers could not criticize their employers, meet secretly with anyone, try to escape or leave their living quarters.
Federal prosecutors say Wang, who has since returned to China, would hold the workers’ passports to stop them from running away. At an arraignment on Thursday, Livingston New Jersey-based Zhong pleaded not guilty to the charges. [NYT] — Miriam Hall