Federal suit says former Guilderland restaurateur tried to get ex-employee deported

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The owner of the former Ichiban restaurant in Guilderland plotted to derail a wage-theft lawsuit filed against him by former employees by having the employees, who were undocumented immigrants, reported to immigration officials, resulting in one worker’s arrest, according to a suit filed last month by the federal Department of Labor.

The federal lawsuit alleges that David Ip — owner of Ichiban Restaurant when the employee who was arrested, Xue Hui Zhang, worked there from 2008 to 2015 — passed along Zhang’s name and the name of two other employees to a Rensselaer County deputy sheriff who moonlighted for a security business Ip owned. The deputy notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities when and where the employees, who at that point no longer lived locally, would be in the Capital Region for a deposition in their class-action lawsuit for theft of wages, according to a DOL account of the case.

In August 2019, Zhang was arrested by ICE agents during a lunch break at a Latham diner near the office of Ip’s attorney, where the deposition was being held. His lawyer in the wage-theft case alleged that Ip’s actions were in response to the employees’ suit and led to Zhang’s arrest.

Three years later, on Aug. 25, DOL officials filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

The suit says, “In a flagrant act of retaliation, Defendant Ip sought to intimidate these former employees and even have them removed from the country to stop them from testifying.” The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damage, legal fees and to prohibit further retaliatory actions by Ip and those working on his behalf.

“Putting a stop to retaliation is a priority, and the department stands ready to litigate aggressively against employers that violate the Fair Labor Standard Act’s anti-retaliation provisions,” Jeffrey Rogoff, a New York City-based regional solicitor of labor, said in a statement announcing the suit.

Ip’s attorney, Matthew Mann, reiterated Tuesday that neither he nor Ip played any part in instigating the ICE arrest, as Mann maintained at the time.

“My client denies all allegations of retaliation,” Mann said Tuesday. He said the wage-theft lawsuit is pending.

Zhang is represented by the Queens-based firm of Troy Law, which filed the original suit against Ip in February 2017, claiming $200,000 in unpaid wages. One of the firm’s lawyers, Tiffany Troy, confirmed Tuesday that the wage-theft suit remains pending. She declined to discuss Zhang’s whereabouts or immigration status. She said he was released from ICE custody with an order of supervision in September 2019. Mann said Zhang returned for future depositions in the following months. The suit by Zhang and fellow employees has been certified for class-action status, Troy said, and the firm will seek a summary judgment against Ip for years’ worth of unpaid wages.

The federal suit says Ip lives in Schenectady County. Property records show he bought a Niskayuna home in 2019. The Guilderland Ichiban he owned, located at 1652 Western Ave., closed in 2016. Though once associated with the original Ichiban, at 338 Central Ave. in  Albany, the two businesses were unaffiliated by the time of the wage theft alleged in Zhang’s suit, and Zhang never worked at the Albany Ichiban, its owner, Mei-Rong Li, told the Times Union in 2019.

Also contained in the federal lawsuit is the name of the Rensselaer County sheriff’s deputy, Adrian Morin. It alleges Ip gave Morin details of the time and place of the deposition, as well as “personal identifying and other sensitive information about the three (plaintiffs), including information about their identities and perceived immigration status.” Four days before the deposition, Morin passed along the information to ICE, “with the goal of having them arrested on the day of the deposition,” the suit says. Morin’s information, according to the DOL suit, “led ICE agents to believe that all three (plaintiffs) purportedly had ‘final orders of removal’ and had ‘absconded.’”

Rensselaer County Sheriff Patrick Russo, who drew criticism from civil-liberties groups for running the only county jail in the state that opted into a federal program to check inmates’ immigration status and turn violators over to ICE agents, did not immediately reply to a request for comment Tuesday about the federal lawsuit’s allegations of Morin’s actions. 

It was not immediately clear if Morin is still a deputy. As of May 2021, he was the department’s resource officer at Hoosick Falls High School, credited that month with disarming and arresting a student who allegedly brought a BB gun to school.  

 

 

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