Restaurant Family Leaves Trail Of Unpaid Bills - WSMV News 4

Restaurant Family Leaves Trail Of Unpaid Bills

Updated: May 20, 2011

On the outside of some local Chinese restaurants is a picture of family success, good food and big crowds.

 

 

Behind that, the Channel 4 I-Team found a trail of unpaid bills, unpaid taxes and ruined lives.

 

When maintenance men opened the doors of Long's Buffet in South Nashville, what they saw was so outrageous that they got it on tape. The owners of the restaurant suddenly closed and took everything, including sinks, refrigerators and tables.

 

It was an abrupt and unexplained ending for a business that once took in $40,000 a month.

 

Insurance agent John Wang sold Long's Buffet its insurance policies. Wang said the Chinese community is small and tight, but that these people were different.

 

"These people struck me as strange, no close friends," said Wang. "It was if they were trying to hide from the Chinese community what they are and what they do. It really feel different."

 

He's talking about Zu Chen, his wife Jin Liu and her sister Jin X. Liu -- the three people associated with Long's Buffet.

 

When the May 2010 flood hit, the Liu family approached their advertising man, Anthony Lucas. Lucas said the family told him they were $70,000 in debt and begged him to be a partner. He agreed and was able to reopen the restaurant in 30 days, but then things became strange.

 

"Numbers are looking good, but there were overdrafts. Bank accounts showed there was no money in bank account," said Lucas.

 

He pointed to July: $34,860 in sales, but the balance is negative $13.96.

 

And then Jin X. Liu obtained a $117,000 federal Small Business Administration flood loan for her business, and the money just disappeared. Then the furniture disappeared and the Lius were gone.

 

Lucas started looking into the family's past. What he found, he said, was devastating.

 

Zu Chen, Jin Liu and Jin X once had four restaurants in the Louisville area. Those restaurants were all shut down by the state for owing more than $88,000 in taxes.

 

But that was just the beginning: Landlords had claims as well, and the courts agreed. There are judgments in Kentucky against the family for about $1 million.

 

How did the family successfully open four restaurants with so many financial problems? The state of Kentucky believes that they made small changes to their names every time they opened a new business.

 

Documents associated with the family's Chinese restaurants show different names:
Chang Lin Lu
Fa Huang Zhang
Zu Kai Chen
Li Zhour Chen
Zu Xing Chen
Jin Hau Liu
Jin Xiu Liu

 

"Any time you have a situation where you are having a difficult time establishing the identity of the person running the business, a different spelling of the name can complicate things," said Mack Gillam of the Kentucky Department of Revenue.

 

The family also opened a restaurant in Cookeville, Tenn., called China Buffet Café. The restaurant opened and closed in less than two years, leaving behind thousands of dollars in bills.

 

There was judgment after judgment, rent, supplies and unpaid credit card bills. Jiu Lin told her credit card company she has never owned a credit card so these charges couldn't possibly be real.

 

Yet in Nashville, after hiring contractor George Ginn to restore the restaurant, she writes a letter to her other credit card company saying that she didn't want to pay Ginn because he didn't do the work right -- $39,000 of work.

 

"They called Bank of America, said that I pulled too many permits, this and that," said Ginn.

 

They made the front page of the local Chinese newspaper, leaving Nashville with $60,000 in debt and another $700,000 for a broken lease.

 

According to business license records, the family is involved with one last Chinese restaurant: China Lee 1 in Chattanooga. Channel 4 News found Jin X. Liu working the register.

 

"Sorry, I no have English. Sorry, don't understand," she said.

 

"What about the SBA loan? What are you doing with that money?" asked Channel 4 reporter Dennis Ferrier.

 

"I can't tell. You call my lawyer. I'm not interested," Jin X. Liu said.

 

"It is amazing how they have learned to take advantage of the system and not get caught," said Lucas. "They have found the holes in American laws and how to find those laws and are doing a good job, unfortunately."

 

This case has played out only in civil court. Now way over $1 million in judgments involving six different restaurants, and now they're open for business in restaurant seven.

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