When the suburban restaurant manager stepped out of his Aurora eatery in June 2014 with a group of men who had driven in from Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, he thought he knew what was coming.
After all, he owed one of them a lot of money.
“He knew the idea was to scare him and intimidate him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Dollear told a jury Tuesday. “He thought it would just be talk.”
Then, Dollear said, “he realized he made a mistake.” The men launched a beating caught on video that lasted 25 seconds and left him bloodied on the ground, the prosecutor said. Now, two of them are on trial in federal court in Chicago.
Jinhuang Zheng and Mingrui Sun face charges of extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion in U.S. District Judge Robert Dow’s courtroom. Their trial began with opening statements Tuesday morning.
Dollear said the restaurant manager owed money to Zheng, and he said it was Sun who stopped the manager from escaping just before the beating. Still, defense attorneys for the two men insist neither one knew what would go down that day.
Zheng’s company had been supplying seafood to the manager’s restaurant chain on credit, racking up a bill of around $40,000, the feds say. Then, that particular restaurant chain went out of business.
The feds say Zheng recruited Sheng Quan Dong to help extort the money from the manager. Dong allegedly recruited Daniel Zhu, who brought in Sun and Bing Liang Chen, records show. The men all allegedly met in Chinatown, piled into a Porsche SUV and took a ride out to Aurora to find the restaurant manager at his new eatery.
Before they left, they allegedly passed around paperwork documenting the debt, and Zheng agreed to give the muscle half of the proceeds, Dollear said.
The prosecutor said the men first confronted the manager inside the restaurant. Then, the manager agreed to walk outside with the men, expecting some simple intimidation.
But once outside, Dollear said the manager realized he was in danger. He tried to go back inside, but his path was blocked by Sun, Dollear said.
Then, the prosecutor said Zheng grabbed the manager by the back of his shirt, and a beating ensued. The men allegedly punched and kicked the man, even when he was on the ground.
“He thought he was going to die,” Dollear said.
The beating ended only when a passer-by spoke up, Dollear said. The men allegedly piled back into the car and returned to Chinatown. That night, four of them went out to dinner and visited a spa on Zheng’s dime, according to Dollear.
Zheng’s attorney, Vadim Glozman, said Zheng was actually afraid of the restaurant manager and had tried several times to recover his money legitimately. He said Zheng asked Dong to help him speak to the manager about the debt, and he said Dong surprised Zheng by suddenly picking up the other men along the way.
“Some situations are just out of our control,” Glozman said.
Sun’s attorney, Michael Ettinger, said his client simply “went for a ride.” Though the feds say Sun stopped the manager’s escape from the beating, Ettinger said the manager bumped into Sun “and that’s when everything started.”
Ettinger said Sun “didn’t get a dime, didn’t want a dime, and a fight started.”
Zhu, Chen and Dong have already pleaded guilty. Dow sentenced Chen in 2016 to 37 months in prison. Dong has agreed to cooperate against Zheng and Sun.