U.S. casino in Saipan accused of fighting dirty in human trafficking suit

Jon Pill
Posted on: June 04, 2021 12:33 PDT

The Imperial Pacific Casino in the U.S. territory of Saipan is struggling to find legal counsel to defend it and its Chairwoman, Cui Li Jie, against charges of human trafficking and labor law violations.

Back in 2018, Bloomberg ran an article alleging that the Imperial Pacific Casino in the U.S. territory of Saipan was embroiled in dealings that involved money laundering, murder by negligence, and American officials taking bribes from Chinese crime syndicates.

Since then, the casino has been sued over failure to pay debts, narrowly avoided going into receivership, and ultimately cut a deal with the U.S. Department of Labor that has allowed the whole affair to linger on.

The human trafficking suit was brought by seven construction workers who are seeking damages from the casino.

Cui's lawyer, Juan T. Lizama, resigned from his role in the case on May 29. As a result, the judge has allowed an extension for Cui to find someone else willing to represent her.

Cui appears to have tried to blame her courtroom issues on her "noncompliant" lawyer. Her request for the extension was to give her time to find "a responsible and competent" lawyer. However, Aaron Halegua, the lawyer representing the workers against Cui and the Imperial Pacific, puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of Cui and her translator. Halegua says they showed "a pattern of obstructionist and disobedient behavior."

Certainly the track record of the casino doesn't make it easy to presuppose innocence on Cui and the casino's part.

The U.S.'s backdoor island

Saipan is part of the U.S. unincorporated territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It's in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and is home to a U.S naval base, several sites of historical interest to WWII buffs, and the Imperial Pacific Casino.

The Bloomberg article referred to above painted a picture of a U.S. island taken over by a Chinese shell corporation.

"At a temporary storefront, the company, Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., was somehow handling more than $2 billion a month in VIP bets," wrote Matthew Campbell. "And at the construction site [...] so many laborers were getting hurt that [the local hospital] began keeping an unofficial spreadsheet, separate from standard hospital records: a grim catalog of broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, dislocated limbs, and eyes penetrated by flying metal."

The article alleged that millions of dollars of graft were going to the island's governors, while Imperial Pacific laundered cash into the U.S. financial system via Chinese junkets.

In April 2021, as a sop to both the Chinese and U.S. governments Imperial Pacific quit the junket game. This proved too little too late. The casino was already suffering from the COVID shutdowns.

Debtors started to find it hard to get their money out of Imperial Pacific. They filed suits against the company. And in the end, Imperial Pacific had two choices: appoint a receiver or pay $1,182,793 to the U.S. Department of Labor. Echoing a strategy adopted later by Cui ( and, separately, Mike Postle), Imperial Pacific played for time. Eventually, the casino folded.

Now both the casino and Cui are playing a similar game with Halegua. In a report to the court, Halegua lists some of Cui's legal stratagems. These include allegations that Cui had: evaded service and failed to respond to a subpoena, deleted phone data and falsely claimed to have lost her SIM card, defied a preservation order on her cell phone by continuing to use it, and lied while giving testimony.

The court case is ongoing and, at the current rate, will be for a while. We will have more details for you as it unfolds.

Featured image source: Flickr by David Jones