Four People Indicted for Compelling Vietnamese Nationals into Labor Servitude

PHOENIX—Four family members were arrested today and face federal charges for exploiting the labor of immigrant Vietnamese nationals for years at their I Do, I Do Wedding Shop in Flagstaff, Arizona, federal authorities announced.

The two-year joint investigation into the family’s activity—dubbed “Operation Broken Promises”—involved at least five victims, now living throughout the United States. Earlier today federal prosecutors unsealed a five-count indictment and served arrest warrants against Flagstaff residents Huong Thi “Kelly” McReynolds, 58; Joseph Minh McReynolds, 36; Vincent Minh McReynolds, 32; and James Hartful McReynolds, 60. According to the indictment, the McReynolds family brought the victims into the United States by offering them a better life, including promises of happy marriages to United States citizens and educational opportunities. Shortly after the victims arrived in the United States, they discovered that the McReynolds family would not fulfill their promises. The victims instead faced compelled servitude in the McReynolds’ home and business.

Houng McReynolds was charged with all five counts alleged in the indictment: Count one alleges a violation of conspiring to engage in forced labor, count two alleges a forced labor violation, count three alleges a violation of unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of forced labor, count four alleges a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and count five alleges a violation of conspiring to engage in marriage fraud. Joseph McReynolds was charged in counts one, two, and five; Vincent McReynolds was charged in counts one and two; and James McReynolds was charged in count five.

“Huong Thi McReynolds and her family lured these victims to the United States on the promise of the American dream; what the victims got instead was indentured servitude,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. “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.”

“Through fraud and coercion, the McReynolds family engaged in modern-day slavery to support their business and live an easy life on the backs of these exploited victims,” said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Arizona. “Working with our partners at the FBI and Department of Labor, HSI was able to document nearly a decade of abuse perpetrated by this family, which will now face justice for their actions.”

“Today’s arrest of members of the McReynolds family is a culmination of efforts by our federal law enforcement partners.,” said James L. Turgal Jr., FBI Special Agent In Charge, Phoenix. “When individuals are forced and exploited for their labor, it erodes our societies belief in the freedoms afforded to us under the laws of our nation. The FBI will continue to work with the law enforcement community to address this type of illegal activity and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”

The indictment alleges that beginning in September 2001, Huong McReynolds brought Vietnamese nationals to Flagstaff, or found them there, where she and her family members housed them and forced them to work seven days a week in the family’s bridal shop—I Do, I Do Bridal. At least until December 2008, Huong McReynolds and her two sons, Joseph and Vincent, compelled the victims to work long hours with little or no pay. Between September 2001 and December 2008, the Vietnamese workers cycled through the bridal shop, with their “employment” ending either by their escaping or being “evicted.”

Members of the McReynolds family, including Huong, Joseph, and James, each married Vietnamese victims. The victims believed they would be entering legitimate marriages with these McReynolds family members. Huong McReynolds shepherded victims through the visa process, to include coaching them prior to their interviews at the consulate. Once the victims were in the United States, Huong McReynolds confiscated their passports and identification, and informed them that they would not only be working at her home, but also long hours in their bridal shop. Despite their marriages to the victims, Huong McReynolds and James McReynolds, who divorced in 1996, continued to live together as husband and wife. Both before and after Joseph McReynolds’ marriage to one of the Vietnamese victims, he was living with a U.S. citizen, with whom he fathered children both before and during his fraudulent marriage.

Regarding the I Do, I Do Wedding Shop and other real property in Flagstaff, the United States District Court has issued a restraining order to preserve that property, and to prevent the removal or sale of such assets prior to the resolution of the criminal forfeiture proceedings included in the Indictment. The United States Marshal will act as receiver for the property. The phone number for the wedding shop will remain operational. If customers have immediate questions, they can contact the shop, however, the Marshals Service will be reaching out to contact existing customers.

A conviction for a violation of conspiring to engage in forced labor carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. A conviction for a violation of forced labor carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. A conviction for unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of forced labor carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. A conviction for a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, $10,000 or both. Finally, a conviction for a violation of conspiring to engage in marriage fraud carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. In determining an actual sentence, the assigned District Court Judge, Judge Snow, will consult the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide appropriate sentencing ranges. Judge Snow, however, is not bound by those guidelines in determining a sentence.

An indictment is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The investigation was conducted by ICE HSI, the FBI, the United States Department of Labor, and the United States Marshals Service. The prosecution is being handled by Krissa Lanham and Josh Patrick Parecki, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

CASE NUMBER: CR-11-8133-PCT-GMS

RELEASE NUMBER: 2011-154(McReynolds)

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