The owner of the former Fusion House restaurant at the Lawrence Shopping Center has been indicted by a Mercer County grand jury on numerous charges that include human trafficking and insurance fraud, according to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Chin Pang Liu, 48, of Mink Court in Lawrence Township, was indicted on Nov. 12 on one count each of human trafficking, false contract payment claims and insurance fraud.
Liu was also indicted on two counts of financial facilitation of criminal activity and three counts of filing a fraudulent tax return, the prosecutor’s office said.
Liu was arrested in November 2018, following a two-year investigation that was launched after a resident reported to police that numerous people were entering and leaving a house on Lakedale Drive.
The tip led detectives from the Lawrence Township Police Department and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office’s Economic Crimes Unit to set up surveillance on the Lakedale Drive house.
The detectives observed many different men and women being driven from the house, which belonged to Liu, to the Fusion House restaurant in Lawrence Township and to the Golden China restaurant in Yardley, Pa. They were driven in cars belonging to Liu.
The investigation revealed that the employees were being paid less than the state minimum wage, under the table and without being taxed. Full-time employees did not receive employment benefits, the prosecutor’s office said.
During the course of a search warrant executed at Liu’s Mink Court home, police found $50,000 in cash and seized the money.
A subsequent review of his 2016 personal tax return showed that he reported income of about $100,000. Additional financial documents and the cash seized during the execution of the search warrant corroborated that he did not report a significant portion of his income.
“This is a classic case of people being isolated, exploited and trapped in a forced-labor situation,” Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri said.
Onofri pledged that his office would continue to work with police to rescue the victims and to ensure that human traffickers face strict punishment.
The human trafficking charge carries a sentence of 20 years without parole to life in prison, and a fine of up to $200,000 if convicted.
Onofri thanked the public and asked citizens to report suspicious activity to the local police department. Residents are the eyes and ears of law enforcement, and are often the first to recognize that something is wrong, he said.
Onofri credited the investigative work of Det. Sean Kerins of the Lawrence Township Police Department and Det. David Petelle of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office’s Economic Crimes Unit.
Onofri also thanked the Lawrence Township Police Department, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office’s Homicide Task Force, Special Investigations Unit and Special Victims Unit, and the Bucks County (Pa.) District Attorney’s Office.
He also thanked the Mercer County Tactical Response Team, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
Onofri thanked the New Jersey Division of Taxation and the New Jersey Department of the Treasury.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations/Enforcement Removal Operations, and the U.S. Marshals Service NY/NJ Regional Fugitive Task Force also participated.