Trial begins for Mexican restaurant owners charged with hiring, harboring illegals

Posted March 07, 2013, at 11:05 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The jury trial of two brothers who are co-owners of Mexican restaurants in Waterville, Westbrook and Biddeford on charges related to the employment of illegal aliens began Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Hector Fuentes, 38, of Waterville and Guillermo Fuentes, 36, of Westbrook pleaded not guilty in August to conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for profit, harboring undocumented aliens for profit, and aiding and abetting document fraud.

The trial is scheduled to last 10 days.

A similar case is pending against the owners of Chinese buffet restaurants in federal court in Bangor.

The Fuentes brothers, who are lawful permanent residents of the U.S., own the Fajita Grill Mexican Restaurant in Westbrook, the Cancun Mexican Restaurant in Waterville and the Cancun Mexican Restaurant II in Biddeford. The restaurants remain open.

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 court documents.

At least four illegal workers cooperated with authorities over the past several years and have continued to live and work in Maine. Federal prosecutors said in their trial brief that 14 former restaurant employees would be called to testify against the brothers.

The brothers allegedly employed illegal aliens and housed them in leased property in Westbrook, Waterville and Biddeford. The men also helped workers obtain fake Social Security and permanent resident cards, the indictment said.

The pair also paid undocumented workers in cash or in tips, according to court documents. When they issued paychecks to workers, the restaurant owners instructed workers to endorse their paychecks and return them. The checks then allegedly were deposited back into the restaurants’ checking accounts.

Both men remain free on $100,000 bail secured by $10,000 cash, according to court documents.

If convicted, each man faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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