US family charged for exploiting Vietnamese immigrants

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The four owners of a family wedding business have been arrested in Arizona, on charges of exploiting trafficked Vietnamese workers.


Huong Thi "Kelly" McReynolds, the 58 year old overseas Vietnamese, James Hartful McReynolds, 60, Joseph Minh McReynolds, 36, and Vincent Minh McReynolds, 32, stand accused of operating a scheme "in which they caused Vietnamese women, men and children to work against their will ... largely unpaid," the Arizona Daily Sun reported Friday.


The McReynolds owns the "I Do, I Do/Sweet Nothings" wedding boutique in Arizona and their crimes allegedly took place from September 2001 and September 2008.


The paper claimed that, following a two year investigation, the victims worked seven days a week for up to 11 hours a day at the store, only to work more hours at the family's residences.


Six Vietnamese workers, who were identified in the indictment only by their initials, were lured to the US with promises of marriage to a McReynolds, education and a better life, the indictment alleges.


Before being put to work, the workers were also stripped of their passports, the report said.


Matthew Allen, Special Agent in Charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Division, described it a case of "human trafficking" and called it "modern day slavery."


"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," he said, cited by the report.


Dennis K. Burke, US Attorney for Arizona, said in a press release that "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," Burke said.


Allen said the investigation proved a challenge because the victims, when identified, were hesitant to come forward, and then their stories had to be confirmed with evidence.


The McReynolds family assets are in the process of being seized by the government, it said.


Allen said the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Department of Labor and the US Marshals Service also were instrumental in the investigation.


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