MANKATO — A plea agreement laying out the evidence against a Mankato woman for human labor trafficking said Tieu Tran orchestrated an elaborate scheme to smuggle a Vietnamese woman into the United States and then forced her to work more than 14 hours a day in her family’s restaurant without pay.
Tran, 49, pleaded guilty recently to one count of forced labor trafficking in U.S. District Court in Minnesota. The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department. Tran faces up to 20 years in prison. No sentencing date has been set.
Tran’s attorney said that while she admittedly smuggled the woman into the country illegally, the accusations of “slave labor” are greatly overstated.
“She worked for, at most, 11 days and was paid $800. She was neither a long-term slave laborer or was she underpaid,” said Minneapolis attorney Joseph Friedberg. He said the woman fled the area shortly after arriving in Mankato.
Friedberg said the woman, in fact, tried to extort $20,000 from Tran, threatening to turn her in for the illegal smuggling.
In laying out its case in the plea agreement, the government does not address how long the woman was working at the restaurant.
Calls by The Free Press to the owner of the Pho Saigon restaurant were not returned.
Friedberg said that when a pre-sentence investigation is completed, it is likely he will seek probation for Tran based on “the lack of damages” to the victim.
In the guilty plea agreement signed by Tran, the government laid out the following factual basis for the case:
The victim, whose name and age were not given in court documents, was living in Vietnam in 2008 when Tran encouraged her to come to the United States. Tran recruited her to accompany two other people — both relatives of Tran’s — who Tran also was seeking to bring into the country.