CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago chef Tony Hu has pleaded guilty to charges he hid millions of dollars in cash receipts in order to lower what he paid in state sales taxes.
Hu owns several Chinese restaurants in the Chicago area. He was charged with wire fraud and money laundering on Friday.
He faces up to four years in prison and has agreed to pay restitution of more than $1 million in lost taxes to the state.
He'll be sentenced in August.
"Tony accepts responsibility for his actions. He will immediately begin taking the necessary steps to make restitution and to hopefully restore faith in him as an upstanding member of society who cares deeply about his family, his friends, his community and the city he loves, Chicago," Hu's attorney Sheldon Zenner said.
Eighteen months after the I-Team reported on federal raids targeting one of Chicago's most popular Asian restaurant groups, its VIP chef and owner was charged in a tax-skimming scheme.
Hu owns numerous restaurants in the city and suburbs and in Connecticut and Las Vegas. Federal law enforcement officials said Friday the celebrity chef has been cooking the books for years. They say he covered up cash receipts and cheated the state out of tax money.
Hu, 48, is known as the "Mayor of Chinatown" because of his political connections. The charges come a year and a half after federal agents raided several of his Asian restaurants.
When FBI agents and IRS Criminal Division investigators raided Hu's restaurants in Chinatown in October 2014, they hauled away ledgers and computer equipment and could be seen questioning employees until paper coverings went up over the front windows.
Usually it is Hu himself who is the star attraction. A devoted following of restaurant patrons has made him a food celebrity and a frequent guest on Chicagoland TV. He even appeared on ABC7 to promote his new, colossal duck oven restaurant on Michigan Avenue months after his empire was raided by the feds.
On Friday, the result of those raids is a federal complaint charging that Hu hid cash from the Illinois Dept. of Revenue; dummied up records of cash transactions; trashed the daily sales summaries to evade authorities and missing from his businesses were most of the cash receipts.
According to prosecutors, Hu's tax skim carried on for a period spanning four years.
This alleged behavior is in sharp contrast to Hu's position in the community and his political connections. Glad-handing photos on display in his restaurants depict the Chinese chef with governors, mayors, presidents and other celebrities and dignitaries.
During the raids in October 2014, one of Hu's restaurant managers didn't seem too concerned.
"I think everything OK, yeah. I think it's OK. I not worry, yeah," Tommy Wong said.