Four suspects accused of forcing employees to work at Vegas Buffet this summer were indicted Wednesday on allegations that the group actively participated in labor trafficking to run the restaurant.

A McLennan County grand jury indicted Vegas Buffet business operators, Zhi “Jimmy” Lin, 32, and his wife, Yala Yang, 30, who were arrested June 1 on felony charges connected to labor trafficking charges when the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office raided the restaurant. Yala Yang is also known as Yali Yang in other law enforcement documents. Yali is considered her alias, law enforcement officials said.

Zhi Lin and Yala Yang were each indicted in a two-count indictment charging engaging in organized criminal activity and trafficking of persons.

Zhi Lin’s brother, Peng Li, 36, was arrested June 4 as authorities re-arrested Zhi Lin and Yala Yang in downtown Waco on smuggling of person charges. He was indicted on one felony count of trafficking of persons.

Sheng Weng, 42, was arrested in late July on a first-degree felony charge of engaging in organized criminal activity for his role in trafficking workers to and from the restaurant. He was indicted on the same charge Wednesday. Sheng Weng had a financial stake in the business and worked as a manager at the buffet, authorities said.

Law enforcement raided the former Vegas Buffet after a labor trafficking investigation uncovered nearly 20 workers were being forced to work inside the restaurant. The workers were made up of legal Chinese workers and undocumented workers from Guatemala that were either forced to live in an apartment near the restaurant or at Yala Yang and Zhi Lin’s home, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said.

Trafficking operation

Search warrants reported that investigators found evidence the restaurant was hiring workers from a trafficking operation. An informant reported to authorities in mid-May that workers were made to work 13 hours a day, six days a week, earning about $2,000 per month, a pay rate below the minimum wage.

A confidential informant told authorities that workers paid thousands of dollars to be brought to the United States. Other workers owed $15,000 if they were from Central America or $80,000 if they were from China, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Workers from Guatemala worked in the kitchen while workers from China worked on the floor, the warrant states.

Child Protective Services authorities reportedly checked on two of Zhi Lin and Yala Yang’s children following the raid. The CPS report stated the couple forced some workers to live at their China Spring home as “servants” and sleep in a room described as a “small jail cell.”

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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