Michigan restaurant owner arrested on harboring charges following deaths of workers

DETROIT— The owner of a Novi, Michigan, restaurant was taken into custody late Thursday after a criminal complaint was filed in federal court charging him with harboring illegal aliens. The arrest is the latest development in an ongoing probe by the Novi Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Border Patrol and the Oakland County Sherriff’s Office. 

Roger Tam, 55, and his wife, Ada Lei, 48, of Novi were charged in the complaint.

HSI special agents and officers with the Novi Police executed federal and state search warrants Feb. 3, at the Novi residence, where five Mexican nationals died as a result of a Jan. 31 fire. Department of Homeland Security databases revealed that all five men were illegally present in the United States and had apparently entered in the last six months.

The investigation revealed Roger Tam hired the five Mexican nationals to work at Kim’s Garden in Novi. The individuals were provided housing in the Novi home owned by Tam and Ada, and were transported to and from the restaurant, as a condition of their employment. According to criminal complaint, Tam told a Novi detective at the scene of the fire that the deceased individuals were paid in cash to work at the restaurant and allowed to reside in the home’s basement, where smoke detectors had been disabled.

“My immediate sense is that this extremely tragic loss of life could have been avoided,” said Marlon Miller, special agent in charge of HSI Detroit. “HSI is committed to aggressively investigating those who harbor undocumented immigrants and place personal profit ahead of public safety. HSI simply will not turn a blind eye to employers who shirk their responsibility to maintain a legal workforce.”

“I am proud of the efforts and professionalism of our investigative team who worked selflessly with our federal partners in bringing this case to fruition,” said David Molloy, City of Novi’s public safety director and chief of police. “What warranted this investigation was senseless on so many counts; from the tragic loss of five lives to the skirting of our nation’s immigration system. In all my years of law enforcement, I have never witnessed such blatant disregard for respect of human life. As the health, safety and welfare of Novi residents and businesses is our main concern, activities such as this will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the full extent the law.”

“This case is a sobering reminder of the dangers employers create when they harbor undocumented immigrants,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said. “In order to obtain a competitive advantage by paying lower wages and evading taxes, some employers will subject undocumented workers to poor living conditions and even dangerous situations.”

A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

If found guilty, Tam and Lei face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.