Evansville Restaurant Operator Sentenced for Scheme to Employ Undocumented Workers

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FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Justice Building is pictured

EVANSVILLE – Kent Dam, 55, of Evansville, Indiana, was sentenced to time served in federal court after pleading guilty to transporting and harboring undocumented workers and money laundering. Gracie’s Chinese Cuisine, which is operated by Dam and his wife, also pleaded guilty to unlawful employment of undocumented workers, and received two years’ probation and a $15,000 fine.

According to court documents, in June 2020, Homeland Security Investigations began an investigation into Dam and the operations at Gracie’s Chinese Cuisine as part of an ongoing multistate investigation into the smuggling, transporting, harboring and employment of undocumented workers. Agents were told that a human smuggler was facilitating the exploitation of undocumented laborers by delivering them to businesses. On multiple occasions, the smuggler drove the undocumented workers from another state to Gracie Chinese Cuisine’s and to two residences owned by Dam on West Wortman Road in Evansville. Dam and his wife personally paid the smuggler for delivering workers to the West Wortman Road residences.

During the investigation, surveillance of the restaurant and Dam’s two residences showed that Dam regularly drove from his primary residence to the West Wortman Road residences and picked up four to six people, then drove to Gracie Chinese Cuisine’s. At the restaurant, Dam and the workers exited the vehicle and entered through the back door. At the end of the day, Dam drove the workers from Gracie’s back to the residences on Wortman Road, before returning to his primary residence.

On October 21, 2020, the vehicle Dam was driving was stopped by officers for a traffic violation. Dam was driving with five passengers at the time. None of the passengers were lawfully present in the United States. One of the passengers was a citizen of El Salvador who had been previously deported, one passenger was a citizen of Indonesia who had entered on a visa, but the visa had been revoked, two of the passengers were citizens of Guatemala who had unlawfully entered the United States without inspection, and the final passenger was a citizen of Mexico who had unlawfully entered the United States without inspection.

All the passengers said they worked in the kitchen at Gracie’s and lived at the Wortman Road residence. Two individuals said that they had been working at the restaurant for 3 months, one said he had been there for 7.5 years, and the others fell somewhere in between. Some claimed that they paid Dam rent to live at the Wortman residence, others said they lived there for free. The workers stated that they were paid by Dam monthly, either by check or with an envelope of cash. One individual said that he was paid $800 per month, another said that he was paid $2,500 per month, and the others fell somewhere in between.

Additionally, the workers said that Dam did not ask them to complete the standard employment forms regarding citizenship and taxes. Some claimed that they did not even have to show Dam identification to get a job. Two of the workers stated that they were brought to Dam’s restaurant by a smuggler.

The worker who had been previously deported was detained and charged federally with unlawful re-entry into the United States. The others were released. Shortly after the traffic stop, Dam contacted a human smuggler and stated that he needed a worker.

“The defendant paid for smuggled, undocumented workers to exploit in furtherance of his own greed,” said Zachary A. Myers, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. “This prosecution and sentence demonstrate that the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners will work tirelessly to ensure that those who unlawfully exploit trafficked persons are held accountable.”

“This individual exploited undocumented workers to enrich himself,” said Special Agent in Charge Justin Campbell of IRS-CI’s Chicago Field Office. “Today’s sentencing is a critical reminder that there are consequences for human trafficking and money laundering.”

Homeland Security Investigations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigated the case in conjunction with IRS Criminal Investigation. The Indiana State Police provided invaluable assistance. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young. As part of the sentence, Judge Young ordered that Dam pay a $35,000 fine and that he forfeit to the United States his 2017 Toyota Tundra truck, which he used to transport the undocumented workers.

U.S. Attorney Myers thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew B. Miller who prosecuted this case.