Hundreds of Americans lost construction contracts worth roughly $14 million when a Chinese casino company smuggled 2,400 Chinese workers into the Northern Mariana Islands, which is a Pacific island chain under the control of the United States since 1898.
The Department of Labor announced a penalty March 5 against the Chinese company:
Investigators with the Department’s Wage and Hour Division determined that the foreign-based construction contractors paid their workforce less than the minimum wage and overtime pay required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Four China-based construction contractors – MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co., Beilida New Materials System Engineering Co. Ltd., Gold Mantis Construction Decoration, and Sino Great Wall International Engineering Co. LLC – have entered into formal agreements to pay $13,972,425 in back wages and liquidated damages to more than 2,400 [Chinese] employees …
“As the Department of Labor works to prevent visa fraud and abuse, this case represents an example of the Department’s strong commitment to protecting the American workforce by enforcing the law,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta.
The Mariana islands — including the islands of Saipan and Guam — were captured from Spain in 1898, and recaptured from invading Japanese soldiers during World War II.
But the $14 million penalty is chump change for the casino, which is apparently owned by a Chinese company, and reportedly helps wealthy Chinese sneak large amounts of money out of the autocratic nation. Bloomberg News reported February 15 about the casino, which was established without apparent federal intervention by former President Barack Obama’s administration:
[Saipan island] has seemed less and less like America since 2014, when a Chinese casino operator arrived and—with near-total impunity—turned Saipan into a back door to the U.S. financial system.
At a temporary storefront, the company, Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., was somehow handling more than $2 billion a month in VIP bets. And at the construction site, it was building a gargantuan casino with a crew of hundreds of Chinese, scores of them working illegally on tourist visas. So many laborers were getting hurt that Rohringer’s colleagues began keeping an unofficial spreadsheet, separate from standard hospital records: a grim catalog of broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, dislocated limbs, and eyes penetrated by flying metal. The dead man Rohringer saw was not, of course, a tourist who’d stumbled over a railing—he was a builder named Hu Yuanyou, and he’d plummeted from a scaffold. His colleagues hadn’t called 911; instead, they’d pulled the work clothes off his broken body in a clumsy attempt to obscure his identity. The less that outsiders learned about the casino, the better.
Hu died building what’s become, on paper, the most successful gambling operation in history. In the first half of 2017, table for table, Imperial Pacific turned over nearly six times more cash than the fanciest gaming facilities in Macau, which themselves dwarf the activity in Las Vegas. And that was before Imperial Pacific opened its lavish megacasino in July.
To minimize federal intervention, the casino operators hired a bevy of D.C. political insiders, according to Bloomberg.
They included David Paterson, former Democratic governor of New York, Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Haley Barbour, the former GOP governor of Mississippi, Louis Freeh, a former FBI director, Eugene Sullivan, a former military judge, and James Woolsey, a former CIA director.
Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski has drafted a bill that would regulate the use of imported workers in the islands.
Correction: The Mariana Islands came under U.S. control in 1989 after the Spanish-American war, not after World War II.