NOVI (WWJ) – The owners of a Chinese restaurant in Novi are expected to enter a guilty plea Wednesday afternoon in federal court in connection to a fire at their home last year that killed five Mexican nationals.
Roger Tam and his wife Ada Mei Lei face six counts of harboring illegal aliens. They were charged last year after a teenager and four young men from Mexico died during a fire Jan. 31 in the basement of their Novi home.
Authorities say the fire was caused by a burning cigarette on a mattress.
Investigators say the victims who died worked 16-hour days, six days a week at Kim’s Garden, Tam’s restaurant. According to a criminal complaint, employment and financial records for Kim’s Garden revealed no indication that the five individuals were legally employed at the restaurant.
Click here to read the criminal complaint (.pdf format)
The criminal complaint alleges the Mexican nationals — ranging in age from 16 to 23 — were provided housing, paid in cash and were transported to and from the restaurant as a condition of their employment.
The basement of Tam’s home had stairs to the first floor, police said, but the basement windows were made of glass block, which would prevent any escape in an emergency. The brother of one of the victims says he saw Mei Lei disable a smoke detector due to its constant beeping.
Autopsies found all five victims died from smoke and soot inhalation, and one of them suffered burns.
The victims are 16-year-old Brayan Contreras, 18-year-old Leonel Rodriguez, 18-year-old Simeon Nunez, 23-year-old Miguel Diaz and 23-year-old Pablo Encino.
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