PORTLAND, Maine — Eight restaurant workers employed by two brothers who own restaurants in Kennebec, Cumberland and York counties have been charged in U.S. District Court with possessing fake documents, the Office of the U.S. Attorney announced Friday in a press release.
Santos Herasmo Elias-Lopez, 26, of Waterville, Esteban Lopez-Cruz, 42, of Biddeford, Salvador Carmona-Ramirez, 50, of Westbrook, Enrique Ruiz-De La Cruz, 24, of Westbrook, Ernesto Bravo-Rodriguez, 38, of Waterville and Arturo Serrato-Rodriguez, 25, of Westbrook have been charged with possession of false lawful permanent resident and Social Security cards.
Zaqueo Nectali Elias-Lopez, 23, and Catalino Lopez-Gomez, 31, both of Waterville, have been charged with possession of false documents and unlawful presence in the United States after having been removed.
The defendants are Mexican and Guatemalan citizens who came into contact with federal authorities earlier this month when the Fajita Grill Mexican Restaurant in Westbrook, the Cancun Mexican Restaurant in Waterville, the Cancun Mexican Restaurant II in Biddeford and residences associated with those restaurants were raided, the press release said.
Guillermo Fuentes, 35, of Westbrook and Hector Fuentes, 37, of Waterville were arrested on Sept. 21 when federal agents raided the restaurants and the houses where workers live. Both brothers are charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and engaging in a practice of hiring unauthorized aliens for the past five years.
Both men have been released on bail and the restaurants in Waterville and Westbrook have reopened, according to reports published in the Waterville Sentinel.
The Fuentes brothers came to the attention of authorities in April 2008 after Westbrook police stopped several Hispanic men who worked at the Fajita Grill Mexican Restaurant in Westbrook but had no U.S. identification documents, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Portland. At least four illegal workers cooperated with authorities over the past several years and have continued to live and work in Maine.
Federal prosecutors have filed motions asking that they all be held without bail pending the outcome of their cases. The workers are expected to make their first court appearances early next week.
Three more restaurant workers, who have not been charged with crimes, reportedly were detained for alleged immigration violations.
Each of the possession of false documents charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Each of the unlawful presence charges carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. On each count, the defendants also face fines of up to $250,000 and terms of supervised release. If convicted, the defendants could face deportation proceedings.
The investigation was conducted by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Homeland Security Investigations Division of the Department of Homeland Security.