LAS VEGAS -- Three men enslaved more than 20
members of a Chinese acrobatic team, feeding them little, paying them next to
nothing to perform and confiscating their passports and visas, US authorities
A woman who worked as an interpreter for China Star Acrobats escaped late
last month and contacted authorities, the FBI said. She told police she and 20
teammates -- including five teens ages 14 to 17 -- were being held
against their will.
Social workers interviewed 14 of them Friday, according to a criminal
"They literally hugged the investigators when they arrived," said FBI
spokesman David Staretz.
You Zhi Li, 38, Yang Shen, 21, and Jun Hu, 43, were arrested this week on
slavery charges. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for July 13.
The acrobats said Li promised them $300 (euro220) to $1,600 (euro1,174) a
month to perform with the China Star Acrobats, a team that traveled and
performed at schools across the United States.
"It's a cultural program," said Anthony Wright, Li's court-appointed defense
attorney. "Chinese folks get to come over here and learn about America."
Prosecutors said the acrobats were forced to stay in Li's home, where up to
six lived in each bedroom. Most had been brought to Las Vegas months ago.
The acrobats told authorities they were fed minimal amounts of instant
noodles, rice and vegetables twice a day. They said they sometimes had to
perform twice a day, were awakened early and did not get to sleep until very
According to the complaint, Li confiscated visas and passports and told them
their phone calls home would be monitored.
One girl who performed as a contortionist told authorities she was being paid
$50 (euro36) a month, while a boy who said he had been traveling with the troupe
for two years said he received $100 (euro73) per month.
The acrobats are now being provided shelter, food and medical attention, said
Terri Miller, director of the Anti-Trafficking League Against Slavery, a task
force formed last year in the Las Vegas Valley.