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Restaurant owners accused of harboring illegal immigrants plead guilty

Xiu Rong Liu, Liang Wu Yang were charged July 31

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A husband and wife accused of harboring illegal immigrants in their home have pleaded guilty, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida said.

Xiu Rong Liu, 43, and Liang Wu Yang, 44, each face a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

Liu and Yang operated the Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Lounge in Jacksonville, according to court documents.

The U.S. attorney's office said U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents went on July 6 to a Jacksonville home owned by the couple as part of an unrelated immigration investigation and encountered several people living there.

The agents observed mattresses on the floor of the formal dining room, which had been converted into a makeshift bedroom, the U.S. attorney's office said. Further investigation revealed that all of the people who lived at the home, except one, were undocumented aliens from Indonesia and Guatemala, that they all lived at the house rent-free and that they worked at the Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse.

The U.S. attorney's office said Yang provided some of the workers with rides between the home and the restaurant.

Under federal law, an employer is required to complete an Enforcement Employment Eligibility Verification Form, or Form I-9, verifying that an employee is lawfully permitted to work in the United States. The U.S. attorney's office said Liu and Yang did not complete the form certifying the aliens, who were paid in cash, and the couple did not withhold taxes and other payments from the workers' wages and did not pay the employer's portion of these payments to government authorities.

They also did not report the workers to state revenue authorities as required under Florida law, ensuring the collection of the proper amount of unemployment compensation tax, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Liu and Yang were charged on July 31. The U.S. attorney's office said a sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.