Opas Sinprasong, Siamese Plate owner, pleads guilty to treating workers like slave labor

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I was at Lotus of Siam, one of Lori Midson's favorite restaurants in the world (and she's right -- too bad it's in Las Vegas), eating and catching up on my Westword reading, when I found this report by Michael Roberts on a Thai restaurant group much closer to home:

Opas Sinprasong, the owner of several Boulder-area Siamese Plate restaurants, on Wednesday had pleaded guilty to harboring illegal aliens and failing to pay taxes -- offenses likely to result in prison time, a $766,000 fine and deportation to his native Thailand -- for the systematic exploitation of workers he treated like indentured servants.

Or slaves, as one attorney said.

Not surprisingly, the deal has had an effect on Sinprasong's restaurants. The website for Siamese Plate on the Go, which shared space at 1575 Folsom Street in Boulder with Siamese Plate and Sumida's, now boasts that the restaurants are "under a new ownership" with a new name -- NaRaYa -- and a new website coming soon.

Here's the release on the Sinprasong deal from the U.S. Attorney's Office:


DENVER -- Opas Sinprasong, age 52, of Boulder, Colorado, pled guilty yesterday to one count of harboring illegal aliens and one count of failing to pay taxes, United States Attorney John Walsh, ICE Office of Homeland Security Investigations in Denver Special Agent in Charge Kumar Kibble, and IRS Criminal Investigation, Denver Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Christopher M. Sigerson announced. As part of the agreement, Sinprasong will forfeit $766,000 and two residential properties.He also faces incarceration and a restitution order to compensate victims of his crime. Sinprasong agreed to be removed from the United States to Thailand following the completion of his prison sentence. The guilty plea was tendered before Chief U.S. District Court Chief Judge Wiley Y. Daniel. Chief Judge Daniel is scheduled to sentence Sinprasong on February 10, 2011. Sinprasong was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in Denver on February 10, 2010.

According to the stipulated facts contained in the plea agreement, as well as the indictment, Opas Sinprasong was a citizen of Thailand who was in the United States on a E2 Non-Immigrant Principal Investor status Visa. While in the United States, he ran Thai and Japanese restaurants in Boulder, Louisville, and Broomfield, doing business as Siamese Plate and Sumidas, and Siamese Plate on the go.

From 2001 through 2008, Sinprasong sponsored Thai nationals' admission to the United States as specialty workers for his restaurants. He claimed in immigration applications that these workers possessed specialized skills that were essential to the efficient operation of his businesses. The Thai employees were admitted to the U.S. for a term of two years, which could be extended for an indefinite number of two-year terms.

Sinprasong required all Thai employees to enter into a two-year employment contract. The terms of employment per the contract included:

• Employees were to pay the defendant a "bond" of 50,000 Thai baht (approximately $1,500 U.S. dollars). The "bond" was a substantial amount of money to the Thai employees.

• Employees were liable to the defendant for a penalty of 600,000 Thai baht (approximately $18,000 U.S. dollars) if the employee violated a term of the contract or caused damage to Sinprasong. The employee was required to obtain a personal guarantor in Thailand, who entered into a contract with the defendant making the guarantor liable for the penalty if the employee violated a term of the contract or caused damages.

• Employees were to pay the defendant a $3,000 dollar "visa preparation fee" which employees were required to pay after arriving in the United States, in addition to other fees.

Sinprasong directed the employees to start work at his restaurants upon arrival to the U.S. and he paid them "under-the-table" while deducting portions of the $3,000 "visa preparation fee" and other fees from their paycheck. Once these fees had been fully paid through such deductions, which typically took between three and four months, the defendant helped the Thai employees obtain Social Security numbers and then started to report a portion of their wages and placed them on the official payroll of the restaurants.

Furthermore, Sinprasong defrauded the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Thai employees. As part of the scheme, Sinprasong used a dual payroll system whereby he concealed from his payroll records the substantial overtime hours he directed the Thai employees to work, which was typically between 26 and 32 hours of overtime each week. As a result, Sinprasong failed to report all of the wages paid to the Thai employees and failed to pay the Thai employees the overtime wages required by federal law. The defendant filed employer's quarterly federal tax returns with the IRS as required, but the returns were materially false in that they failed to report the total wages paid to the Thai employees. By failing to report all of the wages paid to the Thai employees, the defendant evaded paying the employer's portion of the Social Security and Medicare taxes due and owing on the unreported wages.

Sinprasong also filed false immigration applications and harbored illegal aliens.

"Those who break our laws to take advantage of vulnerable alien workers in order to enrich themselves will face dire criminal and financial consequences," said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. "Today's guilty plea is thanks in large part to the hard work of ICE and IRS Criminal Investigation."

"Ultimately, the details of this case show that Opas Sinprasong stacked the deck to make an illegal profit," said Kumar C. Kibble, Special Agent in Charge of the ICE Office of Homeland Security Investigations. "These investigations and prosecutions help ensure that America lives up to its reputation as the beacon of freedom to the rest of the world." Kibble oversees a four-state area, including: Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

"The IRS enforces the nation's tax laws, but also takes particular interest in cases where someone, for their own personal benefit, preys upon the trust of others," said Special Agent in Charge Christopher M. Sigerson for IRS Criminal Investigation.

Sinprasong faces not more than 5 years imprisonment, and up to a $250,000 fine for each count of failure to pay employee federal payroll taxes and not more than 10 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $250,000 for each count of harboring illegal aliens.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and IRS Criminal Investigation.

By the way, Lotus of Siam is opening a second restaurant. Sadly, it will be in New York City -- not Denver. Although I hear there could be a few spaces opening up in Boulder...

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