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Owners of Chinese restaurant accused of keeping employees in basement of home

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Ming Wen Chen (Source: LMDC) Ming Wen Chen (Source: LMDC)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – The owners of a Chinese restaurant are accused of keeping employees in the basement of a home on Churchdown Lane and forcing them to work long shifts with "limited freedoms."

Ming Wen Chen, 42, was arrested on a charge of human trafficking on May 21. His wife, Xiang Zhi Jiang, 42, was cited for the same charge.

Officers investigating the case conducted searches at the home in the 2100 block of Churchdown Lane and at the Golden Palace Buffet located at 161 Outer Loop.

Police are not releasing the number of victims, but just say there were several. Police say the victims did not have passports and some told officers they weren't even sure what city or state they were in.

For 10 years Golden Palace Buffet has been in business, but for the last year Louisville Metro Police have been keeping a close eye on them after a tip from a beat officer concerning their labor practices.

"They were working 12 hour days, 6 days a week and not receiving any money at all," said Sgt. Andre Bottoms, LMPD.

Police say the couple is also accused of keeping some of their employees in the basement of their home with little freedom and no access to the rest 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.

WAVE 3 News talked to Chen's daughter. She did not want to release her name, but allowed us to record her. She says three employees lived in their home on Churchdown Lane. She says the basement was set up like an apartment complete with a kitchen and they were free to go as they pleased.  

"We're not abusing them," said the suspect's daughter. "We're letting them live there because they don't have anywhere else to go."

She says she was aware there was an investigation going on and that the victims in question were at work on Thursday.    

"We were accused for human trafficking," she said. "They all said that they were happy. They were happy living here and the work is really well."

During lunch hour the restaurant was busy. Most customers weren't aware of couple's charges.

"I didn't think this stuff when on, but now a days you never know," said John Lawrence, a longtime customer.

Director of the The Redlight Project, Matt Clark, says human trafficking is more common than what is known. He says it can be in several forms, from drugs to sex to labor.

"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," said Clark. "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."

Chen's daughter told us the family was paired with the workers through an employment agency from New York. Both Chen and Jiang face human trafficking charges.

For more information on the The Redlight Project click here.

Copyright 2014 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.

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