Six months after federal authorities charged Tony Hu with a battery of tax fraud-related crimes, the famous Chicago Chinese restaurant owner was sentenced to one year and one day in prison and fined $100,000. Judge Amy J. St. Eve delivered the sentence this afternoon inside the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago which he should start in February.
The sentencing marks the end of an investigation that started four years ago. The public became aware of the legal problems back in October 2014 when FBI and IRS agents raided Hu’s 10 Chinatown restaurants. Agents were seen carrying out boxes from the restaurants. Presumably, the boxes contained documents and other paperwork of evidence proving Hu bilked the government of $1 million in taxes from $9.8 million in sales. Hu, 49, pleaded guilty to the charges in May. The illegal activity took place from 2010 to 2014.
Hu served as an icon for Chicago’s Chinatown, as his community outreach and restaurants gave him the title "Mayor of Chinatown." He forged relationships with city politicians and local celebrities dined at his restaurants. His real name is Hu Xiaojun and he is a naturalized citizen.
Hu was dressed in a black suit and tie in court. The courtroom was jammed with around 70 people today, many of which where Hu supporters. The case also drew many members of the Chinese language media. The crowd overflowed to the hallway as authorities weren't prepared for such a turnout. Inside, Hu’s attorneys described his life in China, how he emigrated to the states and became a success story. Prosecutors had sought a four-and-a-half-year prison term. Hu has already paid $1.1 million back to the government.
St Eve told her court that even though Hu lived the American Dream, authorities couldn't perpetuate the thought that if you had enough money that you could buy your way out of prosecution.
Hu’s most-famous restaurant brand was Lao Sze Chuan, which opened in 1998 in Chinatown, before expanding off Michigan Avenue, in Uptown, the suburbs, and other locations across the country. Locally, his Chinatown restaurants, which he began divesting in last year, highlighted different regions of China.
When the original opened in 1998, many Americans still based their Chinese food knowledge off of fast-food chains. Sichuan food is now better understood, which led to more restaurants focusing on the region. Hu’s nephew has his own restaurant in Lincoln Park, Chengdu Impression, and much of that Sichuan flavor is reminiscent of Lao Sze Chuan. Now Hu himself is headed to prison.