Couple charged with harboring illegal immigrants who died in Novi house fire

5 men died Jan. 31 while trapped in basement of home on Mystic Forest

NOVI, Mich. – The owners of a Novi restaurant that employed five Mexican immigrants who were killed in a house fire are facing criminal charges.

Roger Tam, 55, and his wife, Ada Lei, 48, are charged with conspiring to conceal, harbor and shield aliens. Moreover, a federal grand jury returned an indictment Thursday with charges including harboring undocumented immigrants for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain and conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain

Tam is in custody. His wife, who is hospitalized, will surrender at a later time. If convicted, they face maximum penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

View the criminal complaint below or click here.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said there's no evidence that the men were employed against their will, but they were not "listed on the books."

The victims died Jan. 31 while trying to escape a fire in a home on Mystic Forest. The medical examiner's office ruled their deaths accidental by smoke and soot inhalation.

“Roger Tam did not disclose that there were people in that basement,” U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade said. “Had the fire fighters known that there were people in that basement perhaps they would have approached that job a little differently.”

The men were identified as Leonel Alvarado Rodriguez, 18, Pablo Alvaro Encino, 23, Miguel Nunez Diaz, 23, Brayan Alexis Medina Contreras, 16, and Simeon Diaz Nunez, 18.

All the men were from Mexico and were not U.S. citizens, police said. They all worked at Kim's Garden Chinese restaurant, which is now closed.

“Mr. Tam is a really good man,” said Samuel Bennett, Tam’s defense attorney. “What happened is a tragedy. He loved all five of the men that passed away like they were his own family.”

According to the complaint, a victim's brother -- who also worked at the restaurant last year -- said the men worked 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. They earned $2,000 a month, ate at the restaurant and lived in the owner's basement as a condition of their employment. The brother is also in the U.S. illegally but is cooperating with the investigation as federal agents work to determine is the situation was part of a bigger smuggling network.

“When we find stuff like this happening we want to know the situation of the smuggling routes, the other business utilizing undocumented workers,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Marlon Miller said.

Police said the fire appears to have started on a mattress in the home's basement.

Here is an excerpt from Friday morning's news conference: 

Novi Director of Public Safety/Chief of Police David E. Molloy said there were a "multitude" of building code violations in the home. A smoke detector that was in the basement had been disabled, McQuade said.

Criminal complaint against Roger Tam, Ada Lei