PORTLAND, Maine — The owners of three Mexican restaurants who were convicted of hiring illegal aliens in March 2013, but later granted a new trial after a jury member called them a derogatory name, returned to federal court Monday to enter guilty pleas.
Brothers Guillermo Fuentes, 38, of Westbrook and Hector Fuentes, 40, of Waterville entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court admitting to knowingly hiring 10 or more undocumented aliens in a 12-month period and making false statements to federal agents, U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II said in a Monday statement.
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 brothers came to the attention of authorities in April 2008 after Westbrook police stopped several Hispanic men who worked at the Fajita Grill 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.
The brothers were convicted March 18, 2013, after a seven-day trial on charges of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for profit, harboring undocumented aliens for profit, and aiding and abetting document fraud.
A juror went to the Eagles Club in South Portland during the trial and told another person that the defendants: “Are all guilty wetbacks anyway,” according to the 23-page decision U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby issued in August when granting the new trial.
The brothers’ new trial was originally scheduled for October.
Monday’s guilty pleas are related to the Fuentes’ hiring practices at Fajita Grill, the U.S. attorney’s statement says.
The false statement charge arises out of post-arrest statements the defendants made to law enforcement officers in September 2011 regarding the hiring practices at the Fajita Grill and at the Cancun Mexican Restaurant in Waterville. The defendants falsely stated, among other things, that federally required documentation regarding the immigration status of employees had been properly completed, Delahanty said.
The defendants face up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. A sentencing date has not been set.
The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General.