Thai restaurateur pleads guilty to using forced labor
Editor's note: This story has been updated to show that the Curry in a Hurry restaurant in Lake Oswego has been under new ownership since 2016.
A Thai restaurateur has pleaded guilty to forced labor, visa fraud conspiracy and filing a false federal income tax return in a case involving the Curry in a Hurry restaurant in Lake Oswego and Teriyaki Thai in Ridgefield, Wash.
Paul Jumroon, who officials say is also known as Veraphon Phatanakitjumroon, accepted a plea agreement in which he admitted obtaining fraudulent E-2 visas to bring four victims to the United States to provide cheap labor at his restaurants.
Jumroon is no longer the registered owner of Curry in a Hurry, which is located on McVey Avenue; the restaurant was sold and has been under new management since 2016, according to documents filed with the Oregon Secretary of State's Corporation Division.
"Human trafficking is a degrading crime that undermines our nation's most basic promise of liberty," said Billy J. Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. "This defendant preyed on the hopes of vulnerable workers, using fear to compel them to work long hours for little pay. He turned a promise of employment and a better life into a human tragedy for his own financial gain."
Jumroon, 54, is a naturalized U.S. citizen who is originally from Thailand and now lives in Depoe Bay. E-2 visas are issued to foreign nationals who invest money in a U.S. business or direct its operations, or to employees who have unique skills or qualifications that are essential to the business.
According to the plea agreement, Jumroon made false promises to the four victims, all of whom were Thai nationals, to encourage them to come to the United States. He then threatened them with deportation and financial harm in order to force them to work 12-hour shifts for six or seven days a week at minimal pay.
Two of the victims arrived in 2012 and 2013, court documents say, and were able to leave in 2013 and 2014, respectively. As part of the guilty plea, Jumroon agreed to pay a combined $131,391 to the four victims for their unpaid labor.
Jumroon also pleaded guilty to filing multiple false tax returns and failing to report cash income from his businesses between 2012 and 2015, and he agreed to pay $120,384 in back taxes to the IRS.
Officials said the case was a joint investigation by the FBI, IRS and the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service, along with the Portland Police Bureau and the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.
"This case demonstrates our firm commitment to holding traffickers accountable and restoring the rights, freedom and dignity of victims" Williams said. "It should also serve as a reminder that these types of crimes happen all around us and often in plain sight. We encourage all Oregonians to remain watchful for signs of human trafficking and to notify law enforcement immediately when something seems amiss."
Jumroon is scheduled to be sentenced on May 24 before U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for forced labor, five years for visa fraud conspiracy and three years for filing a false tax return.