If you live around Chicago’s Chinatown, you may have heard about the scandal involving the area’s famed chef, Tony Hu.
Before the FBI searched his restaurant and found evidence of him laundering money and cooking the books to avoid millions of dollars in taxes, Hu’s story was the classic tale of the American Dream. His recent sentencing, however, added an orange jumpsuit to his rags-to-riches story.
Who Really Is Tony Hu?
Hu grew up on a farm in the Sichuan Province of China with his family. He left in shame and came to America over 30 years ago after he didn’t do so well on a college entrance exam.
Since then, Hu has worked hard to build up a restaurant business that annually brings in over $40 million in sales and includes 11 restaurants in the greater Chicago area, one in Milford, Connecticut, and one in Las Vegas.
In November 2014, however, everything changed for Hu. FBI agents obtained search warrants for his restaurants and discovered that he had altered over $10 million worth of cash receipts to avoid paying high taxes.
Since 2009, investigators believe he committed tax evasion to the tune of over $1 million. The cash receipts and concealed fraud were hidden in over 100 garbage bags seized by investigators.
Hu was charged in May 2016 for wire fraud and money laundering. He pled guilty. Prosecutors asked that Hu be sentenced to over four years in prison, but his defense lawyer asked only for probation.
At Hu’s sentencing trial in mid-November, he received one year and one day in prison. (The one extra day allows him to qualify for good behavior time later.) He must also pay $100,000 in fines, and even more in court-ordered restitution. His jail sentence will begin in February.
Is Hu’s Money Laundering Sentence a Typical One in Illinois?
There are a few years difference in the amount of jail time the prosecution asked for and what Hu ultimately received. Is this typical for money laundering charges?
First, let’s talk about what it means to say someone is laundering money. Money laundering is the act of concealing any form of money to hide its original source. It is a white collar crime that consists not only of committing fraudulent acts or having fraudulent intentions, but also taking the time and effort to cover up this wrongdoing.
In Hu’s case, he committed money laundering when he began changing cash receipts and storing them in tucked-away boxes or trash bags.
When white collar crimes involve hiding money or taxes from the federal government, there is a very good chance that you will undergo a federal investigation and face federal charges. If this is the case, the evidence against you will be extensive, and the charges and penalties are incredibly serious.
Felony money laundering calls for over a year in prison and up to $500,000 in fines. That makes it seem like Hu’s deal is right in line with the average sentence. However, remember that he also pled guilty to wire fraud charges. When you consider both charges and the fact that he avoided over $1 million in taxes, one year in jail is a pretty light sentence.
That being said, Hu does have steep restitution requirements against him. So far, he has paid back over a million dollars, something that has forced him to shut down several restaurants. Moreover, if Hu is ever convicted of these charges again, he may be facing multiple years, or even decades, in prison.
If you have been charged with money laundering in Illinois or believe that you may be under investigation, it is imperative that you get on the phone with an experienced Chicago money laundering defense lawyer immediately. There are actions that can be taken to minimize the damage and possibly even stop the case before it really even starts, but you have to act fast.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.