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4 Flagstaff residents accused of enslaving Vietnamese immigrants

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4 Flagstaff residents accused of enslaving Vietnamese immigrants

Family reportedly lured 5 with promises of American dream

Four people were arrested Thursday on federal charges after being accused of abusing and forcing five Vietnamese nationals into servitude for years at a Flagstaff wedding store.

A two-year investigation — dubbed “Operation Broken Promises” — into the four family members led to a five-count indictment that included forced labor and marriage fraud charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix said Thursday.

According to the indictment, Houng Thi “Kelly” McReynolds, 58; Joseph Minh McReynolds, 36; Vincent Minh McReynolds, 32; and James Hartful McReynolds, 60, are accused of luring five people from Vietnam into the United States with the promise of better lives, marriages to U.S. citizens and educations.

The immigrants told authorities that once here, they were forced into labor, abused and threatened with guns at the family’s business — the I Do, I Do Wedding Boutique — and at the family’s Flagstaff home.

The indictment alleges that beginning in September 2001, Huong McReynolds brought Vietnamese nationals to Flagstaff, or found them here, where she and her family housed them and forced them to work seven days a week in the store. 

At least until December 2008, Huong McReynolds and her two sons, Joseph and Vincent, forced the victims to work long hours with little or no pay, autorities said.

The workers eventually left the accused family by being fired, escaping or being evicted, the indictment said.

“Huong Thi McReynolds and her family lured these victims to the United States on the promise of the American dream; what the victims got instead was indentured servitude,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke. 

“The defendants created a climate of fear inside their home and business by carrying firearms, berating the victims and threatening to physically harm them and shame their families in Vietnam. They weren’t just exploited for their labor, they were robbed of their basic human dignity,” he said.

According to authorities, Huong, Joseph and James, each married Vietnamese victims. The accusers believed they would be entering into legitimate marriages.

Huong McReynolds is accused of shepherded victims through the visa process by coaching them prior to their interviews at their consulate. 

Once the victims were in the United States, according to the indictment, Huong McReynolds stole their passports and IDs, and told them they would not only be working at her home, but also long hours in their bridal shop. 

Despite their marriages to the victims, Huong McReynolds and James McReynolds, who divorced in 1996, continued to live together as husband and wife. 

Before and after Joseph McReynolds’ marriage to one of the alleged victims, he was living with an American, with whom he fathered children. 

“Through fraud and coercion, the McReynolds family engaged in modern-day slavery to support their business and live an easy life on the backs of these exploited victims,” said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Arizona. 

“Working with our partners at the FBI and Department of Labor, HSI was able to document nearly a decade of abuse perpetrated by this family, which will now face justice for their actions,” he said.

Houng McReynolds was charged with all five counts in the indictment: conspiring to engage in forced labor, forced labor, unlawful contact with documents leading to forced labor, violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and conspiring to engage in unlawful marriage.

Joseph McReynolds was charged with conspiring to engage in forced labor, forced labor, and conspiring to engage in unlawful marriage.

Vincent McReynolds was charged with forced labor and conspiring to engage in forced labor, while James McReynolds was charged with conspiring to engage in unlawful marriage.

The United States District Court issued a restraining order that would give control of the wedding shop and other property belonging to the family in Flagstaff to the United States Marshal's Service.

The investigation was conducted by ICE HSI, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Marshal’s Service.

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