Taiwanese official pleads guilty to labor charge

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2011 4:12 PM
Taiwanese official pleads guilty to labor charge

A Taiwanese representative pleaded guilty Friday to a charge accusing her of violating a federal labor law by underpaying and overworking two women hired from the Philippines to work in her suburban Kansas City home.

Hsien Hsien Liu, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, pleaded guilty to fraud in foreign labor contracting as part of a plea agreement. Prosecutors accused Liu of underpaying the housekeepers and making them work 16- to 18-hour days.

U.S. District Judge David Gregory Kays said he would decide later whether to accept the plea agreement, which recommends that Liu be sentenced to time served and then deported immediately. It also calls for Liu to pay a total of $80,044 in restitution to the women _ one who worked for Liu this year, and another who worked for Liu from 2009 to 2010.

"I hope the government will accept the plea agreement as we have worded it," Liu's lawyer, Jim Wirken, said after the hearing. "We need to remember this is a 30-year employee of the Taiwan government."

Wirken said if the judge does not accept the plea agreement, Liu will withdraw her guilty plea.

Prosecutors have said they believe Liu is the first foreign official to face a fraud in foreign labor contracting charge in the United States. Others have been prosecuted for mistreating domestic workers, but Liu is accused of violating a law covering the recruitment of foreign workers and their transport into the United States on fraudulent terms.

The U.S. Attorney's office said in a statement that the government has already received two cashier's checks totaling $80,044 and that each housekeeper will get a portion of that amount based on 16- to 18-hour days, six and a half days a week.

"The victims have been certified as victims of a severe form of human trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act," the statement said. The U.S. Attorney's office said the two will also receive special visas allowing them to live and work in the U.S.

Liu, who has been in federal custody since her arrest Nov. 10, appeared in court wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists. She quietly answered several questions from the judge in the hourlong hearing before responding "guilty," when asked how she pleaded to the charge.

Prosecutors accused Liu of telling the women they would be paid about $1,240 a month, work 40-hour weeks and would also be entitled to overtime. Instead, they say, the housekeepers were actually paid $400 to $450 a month, worked 16- to 18-hour days and were monitored with video surveillance equipment at Liu's home in Overland Park, Kan.

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The judge said he would consider the plea agreement and a pre-sentence investigation report, which could take nearly three months to complete. Liu is to remain in custody while the judge considers the plea agreement.

Wirken has asked for expedited sentencing, and said after the hearing he was hoping the judge would make a decision soon, perhaps within a week or two.

Several representatives from the Taiwanese government, as well as Liu's sister were in the courtroom for the hearing. They left without commenting to the media, which included reporters from Taiwan.

TECO, the office where Liu served as director general for about two years, is one of about a dozen similar offices responsible for maintaining "close unofficial relations between the people of the United States and the people of Taiwan," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office in Kansas City.

James Chang, the Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press earlier Friday he hoped Liu could be "released as soon as possible."

The original affidavit in the case related to one victim, and referred to a second victim. The plea agreement also required Liu to "accept responsibility" for the earlier victim, the prosecutor's office said.