Four members of a Flagstaff family who own the I Do! I Do! wedding boutique business were arrested Thursday morning on charges that they exploited workers brought illegally from Vietnam.
Huong Thi "Kelly" McReynolds, 58; James Hartful McReynolds, 60; Joseph Minh McReynolds, 36; and Vincent Minh McReynolds, 32, are all scheduled to have initial appearances in U.S. District Court in Phoenix on Friday to be formally read the charges against them.
The investigation into the McReynolds' business has been ongoing for the last two years, said Special Agent in Charge Matthew Allen of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Division.
The indictment alleges that the four "... operated a scheme in which they caused Vietnamese women, men and children to work against their will at the 'I Do, I Do/Sweet Nothings' wedding boutique ... largely unpaid."
The victims would work seven days a week for up to 11 hours a day at the store, then work more hours at the defendants' residences.
The indictment also alleges the victims were lured to the country on the promise of marriage to one of the McReynolds family members, education and a better life.
Once here, the victims were stripped of their passports and identification and put to work.
According to the indictment, the family members "... intended to cause the workers to believe if they did not perform the labor and services, the workers and other persons would suffer serious harm, and by means of the abuse and threatened abuse of law and legal process."
"The thrust of this case is that it's a human trafficking investigation as opposed to a human smuggling investigation," Allen said.
Smuggling deals with transportation of illegal immigrants. Trafficking deals with exploiting the labor of illegal immigrants.
"In this case, they've been exploited for labor purposes," Allen said. "We refer to it as 'modern-day slavery.'"
He later added, "It goes on in our communities. It does happen."
SEARCH WARRANTS SERVED
Agents served three search warrants and three arrests warrants in Flagstaff Thursday morning. An additional search and arrest warrant was served on a McReynolds home in the Valley. Allen said investigators were in search of "documentary evidence."
According to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday:
-- Kelly is charged with five counts -- forced labor conspiracy, forced labor, unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of forced labor, violation of fair labor standards act, and marriage fraud conspiracy.
-- Joseph is charged with three counts -- forced labor conspiracy, forced labor and marriage fraud conspiracy.
-- Vincent is charged with two counts -- forced labor conspiracy and forced labor.
-- James is charged with one count of marriage fraud conspiracy.
The U.S. Marshals Service has also begun forfeiture and restitution proceedings against the four, according to the indictment.
Allen said the family assets are in the process of being seized by the government.
Allen said the lengthy investigation proved a challenge because victims, when identified, were reticent to come forward, and then their stories had to be corroborated with evidence.
Dennis K. Burke, U.S. Attorney for Arizona, stated in a press release, "Huong Thi McReynolds and her family lured these victims to the United States on the promise of the America Dream; what the victims got instead was indentured servitude."
Burke continued: "The defendants created a climate of fear inside their home and business by carrying firearms, berating the victims and threatening to physically harm them and shame their families in Vietnam. They weren't just exploited for their labor, they were robbed of their basic human dignity."
Six victims were identified by initials in the indictment, and the crimes were alleged to have happened between September 2001 and September 2008.
The following charges carry the following maximum penalty upon conviction:
-- Conspiring to engage in forced labor: 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
-- Forced labor: 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
-- Unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of forced labor: 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
-- Conspiring to engage in marriage fraud: 5 years in prison, $250,000 fine.
-- Fair Labor Standards Act violation: 6 months in prison, $10,000 fine.
The telephone number for the wedding shop will remain operational. Customers with immediate questions can contact the shop at 774-8996. U.S. Marshals also will be attempting to contact existing customers.
Allen said the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Marshals Service also were instrumental in the investigation.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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