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Immigration officials tight-lipped about 15-person arrest last week

Federal and local authorities are disclosing little about the yearlong investigation that resulted in the arrest last week of the owner and 14 employees at Jade Garden restaurants in Beaufort and Bluffton.

"This is very much an ongoing criminal investigation," said Barbara Gonzalez, regional spokeswoman for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. "There are no new developments and no new information to release."

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner referred questions about the case to ICE and declined to comment on what led authorities to believe the restaurant was hiring illegal immigrants.

On March 23, ICE officials and members of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office executed search warrants at Jade Garden's Beaufort restaurant on Boundary Street, at the Bluffton restaurant on Fording Island Road, at three homes in Bluffton and at two homes in Beaufort, according to Gonzalez. All were arrested and charged with being in the U.S. illegally.

The 15 people, all adults, hail from various countries. Six are Chinese men, four are Chinese women, four are Mexican women and one is a Guatemalan man, according to ICE.

They remain in custody, Gonzalez said. She declined Friday to release their names or where they were being held.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has not determined whether federal charges will be pursued against the owner or the workers, Gonzalez said.

The owner of the restaurant -- Ai Hui Huang, according to Beaufort County's business license database -- is an ICE fugitive and probably will be deported based on a previous deportation order, according to Gonzalez. Gonzalez would not provide details of that order on Friday.

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