The couple arrested in the labor trafficking investigation at Vegas Buffet restaurant forced some workers to live at their China Spring home as “servants” and sleep in a room described as a “small jail cell,” Texas Child Protective Services reports state.

The living condition of workers were detailed in the CPS reports filed this week concerning the two children of Vegas Buffet operators Zhi “Jimmy” Lin, 31, and Yali Yang, 30. The couple lost custody of their 8-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son after McLennan County Sheriff’s Office deputies raided the Waco restaurant in a labor trafficking investigation last week.

The CPS reports describe officials’ concerns about workers’ living conditions and the children’s welfare. The reports state that neither of the children has ever been immunized or seen a doctor while living in Texas. The children had regular contact with about 10 Chinese workers who lived with the family at their China Spring home, and they described the workers as “servants,” according to the report.

“The report stated Mr. Zhi Lin and Ms. Yali Yang’s business, the Vegas Buffet, was raided by local law enforcement due to concerns of human trafficking,” the affidavit states. “There was a concern that Mr. Lin and Ms. Yang were smuggling and employing underage and undocumented immigrants from China and Guatemala.

“The youngest person said to be employed by Mr. Lin and Ms. Yang is 14 years old. There is a concern that Mr. Lin and Ms. Yang are allowing these individuals access to their underage children.”

McLennan County Sheriff’s Office deputies raided the Vegas Buffet last week and found a total of 19 people inside the business. Zhi Lin was arrested on a first-degree felony charge of engaging in organized criminal activity, and Yali Yang was initially arrested on a first-degree felony charge of trafficking of persons.

The couple each posted a bond listed at $60,000 and were released from custody. They were arrested again Monday on a charge of continuous smuggling of persons based on accusations that they transported and concealed unauthorized immigrants.

Zhi Lin’s brother, Peng Li, 36, was also arrested Monday on a felony engaging in organized criminal activity charge after authorities accused him of transporting the workers to and from the restaurant, an arrest affidavit states.

Living conditions

According to the CPS affidavit, the 7-year-old boy told investigators that he lives in the home with his mother, father, sister and between eight to 12 other people, but he did not know their names.

The 8-year-old girl told interviewers that the “other people” are the workers for her parents’ restaurant. She referred to the workers as servants, and referred to Central American workers who lived in a Waco apartment as “amigos.”

“(The girl) indicated her father and uncle would drive a van to pick up all the workers up to go to their restaurant daily then take them home once the restaurant was closed,” the report states. “She stated the ‘servants’ lived in her home. She stated the ‘amigos’ lived at an apartment.”

Law enforcement officers who raided the China Spring home last week found “makeshift rooms in the home using Sheetrock and curtains,” the affidavit states. “The rooms were described as the equivalent of a small jail cell.”

Authorities reported that the family had created about five rooms for the 10 or so workers lodging at their home. The CPS report states workers were forced to use coin-operated laundry machines at the house and had to do chores for the family on their only day off a week.

“(The children) indicated the “amigos” and “servants” do not drive and they do not go anywhere on their day off,” the report states.

‘Yuck of a place’

Sheriff Parnell McNamara said about seven workers who were living in the apartment had been evicted shortly before the raid last week. He said the two-bedroom apartment smelled bad, had a leaking pipe in the ceiling and offered only one mattress for every four workers.

“It was just a yuck of a place,” McNamara said.

CPS investigators requested the children be placed in foster care and that a temporary managing conservator be named for the children’s safety. The children remained in the care and custody of CPS on Wednesday.

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.

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