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Billings restaurateur sentenced to prison for sex crimes against employees

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Posted at 11:39 AM, Jun 17, 2024

BILLINGS - A Billings restaurant owner who preyed on female employees has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Chien "Howard" Hwa Shen, 51, appeared Friday for sentencing in Yellowstone County District Court following a jury trial last year that resulted in six convictions related to the sexual abuse of several women. Shen was convicted of felony charges of sexual intercourse without consent, prostitution, and two counts of sexual assault inflicting bodily injury. He also was convicted of misdemeanor charges of prostitution and sexual assault.

Judge Jessica Fehr ordered Shen to serve a total of 10 years at Montana State Prison followed by 20 years of probation. He was also designated a Level One sex offender, according to court records.

At the time of the crimes, Shen was the part owner of three Billings restaurants: Carne Brazilian grill, Wild Ginger Japanese Steakhouse and the Asian Sea Grill. He was initially charged with sexually assaulting two female restaurant employees in October of 2020. He was eventually convicted of sexually abusing or offering money to have sex with six different women over a period of four years, according to court records.

“So not only were they being violated in a very personal way but in a place where they were dependent on the person who was harming them for their economic security,” said Billings YWCA CEO Erin Lambert, who works with sexual-assault survivors regularly, on Monday. “The only way we’re going to make changes is if we talk about it and speak up and speak out about those types of atrocities.”

In court records, prosecutors said Shen deserved a lengthy prison sentence because he "severely abused his position of power and authority over his young, female employees; the grooming and sexual conduct was not an isolated event; the defendant sexually abused and violated multiple women; and the Defendant does not currently demonstrate an ability to be meaningfully rehabilitated in the community."

During Shen’s pre-sentencing investigation, investigators found that he operates at a high level of denial, saying, “It’s not fair, I didn’t do anything,” and that the women were out to get his money despite a civil lawsuit being resolved before this trial.

“There’s so much fear, first of all. Shame, not that there should be, but having to speak so publicly about really intimate things that happened to you. There’s a lot of shame and embarrassment that comes with that," Lambert said. “Speak up, speak out. Don’t be ashamed and don’t hide. Let somebody know so we can help you and get you safe”

Prosecutors also noted the victims were especially vulnerable.

"These were young women, some only in high school who were new to the restaurant industry," prosecutors said in court records. "Others were single mothers who depended on the income they made working for the Defendant in order to care for and support their children. The Defendant groomed these women by making comments about their bodies and clothing. He would touch them and have them give him shoulder massages. And, when he violated them, he used money was a way to keep them silent."


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