Novi man whose 5 employees died in house fire pleads guilty

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A Novi restaurant owner and his wife pleaded guilty in connection with a fire that killed five illegal immigrants who lived in his basement.

Roger Tam and his wife Ada Lei both pleaded guilty to all six charges in the case Wednesday, and both face up to 10 years in prison and restitution.

Five young men who came to this country illegally died back on Jan. 31 in a house fire on Mystic Forrest Drive in Novi. All of the victims, between the ages of 16 and 23 also worked at Kim's Garden, a restaurant owned by Tam.

"There's no dispute what they did but the government wants more than we can give," said attorney Arthur Weiss, who represents Lei.

They were hired with no paperwork and worked basically under the table for cash. Tam drove the Mexicans to work and back each night. The government said, the defendants, therefore, profited by these illegal aliens. 

"We have a lot of people in Detroit that are working illegally," Cassar said. "We've a lot of jobs that people won't take."

FOX 2: "It sounds like government wants a lot of money?"

"They will pay the appropriate amount," Cassar said.

Sentencing will take place on June 13. If the government can link deaths to the criminal activity, the defendants are looking upwards of 10 years in prison, and hundreds of thousands of dollars. If not, there's a request for probation.

Investigators say the fire appears to have been accidental and the fire started on one of the beds in the basement, where all of the victims lived.

Tam's attorney argued they were not smuggled or held against their will. He added that Tam treated the young men who died like family.

Investigators say there were a number of fire code violations inside the home including disabled smoke detectors in the basement.