The owners of a Kentucky Chinese restaurant were arrested on charges of human trafficking Wednesday for allegedly forcing unpaid, undocumented workers to stay in the basement of their Louisville home.
Ming Wen Chen, 42, and his wife Xiang Zhi Jiang, 42, were both charged with one count of human trafficking.
It is unclear how many victims were involved. Police say several workers at Chen’s restaurant, the Golden Palace Buffet, were working 12-hour days and were not being paid. Some had no passports and told police they unsure of what city or state they were in.
"They were working 12 hour days, 6 days a week and not receiving any money at all," said Sgt. Andre Bottoms, LMPD, WAVE 3 reported.
Some workers were being kept in the couple’s basement, with limited freedom and no access to any other part of the house.
“The basement was set up to have these little tiny rooms, I would say ten rooms, some of them were six by six, maybe seven by seven, but real small rooms," said Bottom.
Police began investigating the restaurant after a tip from an officer who was concerned about their labor practices.
The couple’s daughter, who chooses to remain unidentified, told WAVE 3 that her parents were not holding anyone hostage. She said three employees lived in the basement, which is set up as an apartment with a working kitchen.
"We're not abusing them," she said. "We're letting them live there because they don't have anywhere else to go."
She said the workers were sent to them through a New York-based employment agency.
"We were accused for human trafficking," she said. "They all said that they were happy. They were happy living here."
Matt Clark, director of The Redlight Project, says human trafficking can take many forms.
"If you are a legitimate employee, why can you not interact with the public, why can't you say this is my job and this is my work," Clark told WAVE 3. "Anytime you have an organization that is trying to crack down on the freedoms of the individual, the justice system is there in place to hold them accountable."