DETROIT – The owner of a Warren nail salon and a dual citizen from Dearborn Heights used a pontoon boat and a closed restaurant at the end of a desolate street to smuggle a Vietnamese man into the United States, according to officials.
Quan Dang Hoang, 36, was named in a criminal complaint filed Thursday (Jan. 19). He is a citizen of Vietnam and a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Officials also named a 53-year-old Dearborn Heights man who is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, but he is not charged in the complaint.
People smuggled across Detroit River
A man flagged down a Detroit Border Patrol agent April 12 on East Jefferson Avenue near the Whittier Hotel. He said he’d witnessed a group of about six people being dropped off by a pontoon boat at Sindbad’s Restaurant and Marina on St. Clair Street in Detroit.
Sindbad’s is located along the Detroit River and, at the time, was closed on Tuesdays, including April 12, according to the criminal complaint.
“Cross-border smuggling has been known to occur in the vicinity of Sindbad’s,” the complaint reads.
The agent went to the marina around 6:40 p.m. April 12 and spoke to the captain of a fishing charter boat.
“Before asking the captain any questions about the possible smuggling event, the captain stated to the agent that he just observed a possible human smuggling event involving approximately six people,” the complaint says.
The captain told the agent that the boat had been a black or gray pontoon with a white stripe. It had two twin Evinrude Outboard engines and three pontoon tubes.
The captain said the boat had dropped people off along the dock. Those people didn’t have any fishing gear or other baggage, the captain said.
Officials said the driver of the pontoon boat had told the captain that he dropped his passengers off so they could get something to eat.
“However, as previously noted, Sindbad’s restaurant was not open for business on Tuesday, April 12, 2022,” the criminal complaint reads. “Additionally, Sindbad’s is located at the end of St. Clair Street, a seemingly desolate one-way street.”
Tracking the pontoon boat
The agent learned from the captain that the pontoon boat had possibly pulled into boat well No. 39 at Sindbad’s. The captain took pictures of the boat at 6:24 p.m., as it was leaving.
Radar tracks from April 12 confirmed that a boat had arrived in the area and departed around that time, authorities said. That vessel traveled to Sindbad’s from a location in Canada, south of Belle Isle, officials learned.
On April 13, Border Patrol agents worked with authorities in Ontario to locate the pontoon boat on Riverside Drive East in Windsor, court records show.
A black 2018 Range Rover and a construction trailer were parked at the location. The SUV, trailer, and pontoon boat were all registered to the Dearborn Heights dual citizen, officials said.
When agents showed the fishing charter captain a picture on April 14, he confirmed the Dearborn Heights man was the person who had driven the boat to Sindbad’s two days prior, according to authorities.
Investigating boat passengers
Officials used security camera footage from a nearby store to determine that the people from the pontoon boat had been picked up by a maroon 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. The minivan went north on St. Clair Street to Jefferson Avenue at 6:33 p.m. April 12.
Investigators learned the registered owner of the Pacifica was Hoang, who lived on Nicholas Court in Warren and owned VP’s Nail Salon. He is a certified nail salon technician in Michigan.
The criminal complaint says officials later found a picture on Hoang’s phone that showed the front of Sindbad’s and part of the Pacifica. The photo had been taken April 12, according to authorities.
Hoang pulled over with Vietnamese man
A Border Patrol agent saw Hoang pull the Pacifica into his driveway around 9 p.m. April 14. A second man, identified as Ho Thong, 27, was also inside the minivan, officials said.
The criminal complaint describes Thong as “a Vietnamese national who unlawfully entered the United States without inspection by an immigration officer and is living in the United States illegally.”
Hoang and Thong went into the home, according to agents. They left again the next day and went to VP’s Nail Salon.
An agent from Homeland Security Investigations went into the nail salon wearing plain clothes and saw Hoang and Thong working inside, authorities said.
Cellphone pictures, videos
Border Patrol agents stopped the Pacifica on May 2 in front of the nail salon and spoke with Hoang and Thong.
Thong gave agents permission to look through his cellphone photos to find a picture of his passport because he didn’t have the passport with him, the criminal complaint says. Officials later received a search warrant to look through the phone.
Agents said they saw photos and videos dating back to Oct. 6, 2021, showing Thong and several others at the Windsor home belonging to the Dearborn Heights dual citizen.
One video showed Thong riding on a pontoon boat with others while the Dearborn Heights man drove, officials said. Another showed Thong in front of Sindbad’s with Hoang’s wife, who is also illegally in the U.S. from Vietnam, according to court records.
There were several selfies on Thong’s phone that showed him inside VP’s Nail Salon.
“Agents discovered additional photographs from Hoang’s phone that support his active role in transporting, harboring, and employing” undocumented people, the complaint says.
Other photos on Hoang’s phone showed a list of accounting numbers for people who worked for him at the salon, officials said. Thong’s name was included next to a list of the money he had earned.
To confirm Thong’s employment at the salon, an agent wearing plain clothes went inside around 11 a.m. Sept. 28 and made an appointment through Hoang to have her nails done by Thong the following day.
Thong taken into custody
Neither Hoang nor Thong could provide documentation of lawful immigration status at the time of the May 2 traffic stop, so they were detained, agents said.
Records show Thong had never been admitted or paroled into the U.S. He was charged with violating the Immigration and Nationality Act and lodged at the St. Clair County Jail.
Hoang received a citation for not having his permanent resident card with him. He was released without further incident.
The Pacifica was seized for harboring/transporting an undocumented person, officials said.
Hoang’s new address
Agents said that on Nov. 22, while they were monitoring Nails & Bar Salon on West McNichols Road in Detroit, they saw a maroon Cadillac registered to Hoang.
Three women got out of the Cadillac and went into the salon.
Officials said the Cadillac had been registered to Hoang, but was changed to a new address on Chadbourne Drive in Sterling Heights.
“The new address confirmed the suspicion that Hoang, his family, and other residents of the home have moved,” the criminal complaint says.
Agents kept an eye on the Sterling Heights home and saw Hoang and Thong leave at 9:12 a.m. Nov. 23. Shortly afterward, Thong’s wife left with another person in a white Ford Explorer.
On Dec. 15, agents said they saw Hoang and an unknown man leave the Sterling Heights home and drive to Nail & Bar Salon.
The criminal complaint concludes that Hoang either brought or attempted to bring Thong into the United States illegally.
Hoang is accused of “knowingly or in reckless disregard of the fact that (Thong) had come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transported, moved or attempted to move (Thong) within the United States by means of transportation or otherwise.”
He is also accused of employing Thong, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
“It is further my belief that probable cause exists that (Hoang) ... did conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, or attempt to conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, Thong in any place, including any building or any means of transportation,” the complaint concludes.