LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11)-- A South Louisville restaurant owner and his wife are accused of human trafficking.
Police said 42-year-old Ming Wen Chen and his wife, 42-year-old Xiang Zhi Jiang, kept employees in the basement of their Churchdown Lane home. Investigators said they forced them to work at their business, The Golden Palace Buffet, for little or no pay.
Police said workers were brought in from New York, many originally from China. LMPD Sergeant Andre Bottoms said they had no passports and spoke very little English.
Bottoms said workers had little to no freedom and “they appeared to be prisoners.”
“It was set up to where they had these ten little rooms, these little tiny rooms,” Bottoms said,” I'd say approximately ten in this basement, some were 6 x 6, 7 x7."
Bottoms did not reveal how many people appeared to have been victimized. He said in some cases more than one person was being kept to a room.
Investigators believe workers were confined to the home’s basement, which was sealed off from the rest of the home. Bottoms said the basement had covered windows.
Police said Chen was transporting employees back and forth to his Outer Loop restaurant in a van with wooden benches. Detectives said some employees worked up to 72 hours per week with no pay at all.
“We found that some of the waitresses were working for tips only and most of the times they didn't even get to keep their tips,” Bottoms said.
One of the couple’s neighbors told WHAS 11 that she saw at least a dozen people coming to and leaving from the house daily. She became suspicious after seeing two girls running from the residence.
"I was coming home late and there were two girls, they probably about 18, and they had suitcases in their hands and they were running down the street. They were running like they were trying to get away from something," she recalled.
Buffett customer Bentley Moore said if the allegations are true, he will not be eating at The Golden Palace anymore.
"I can't believe I just walked out of that restaurant. It's pretty wild. I have only eaten here like 3 times, but I don't think I would want to again," Moore said.
Detectives have been working this case for over a year. Chen is being held on $50,000 cash bond.
Chen has no prior arrests. Ming Wen Chen will face a judge on Friday morning.
Xiang Jiang has been charged but not yet arrested.