The manager of the El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant in Ottawa has been charged with harboring people working in the country illegally.
Alex Sanchez Jr., 33, is charged with four counts of harboring for financial gain people working in the country illegally and five counts of encouraging them to reside in the United States for financial gain, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said on Friday.
The restaurant was closed in June because of a criminal investigation by federal immigration and customs authorities.
The crimes are alleged to have occurred at various times from September 2011 to June 2013. When the Ottawa restaurant was closed in June, a Homeland Security spokesman told the Journal-World that the investigation also involved local law enforcement agencies in the Kansas City area and in Ottawa, including the Clay County Sheriff’s Office in Missouri, the Overland Park Police Department and the Ottawa Police Department.
An El Mezcal restaurant at 1520 Wakarusa Drive, one of three in Lawrence, closed in early August. Tomas De La Paz, listed on corporate annual reports filed with the state as a director of the El Mezcal in Ottawa and the Wakarusa location, referred all questions to his attorney, who could not be reached Friday.
Friday’s indictment alleges that the investigation began in June 2011 when the Department of Homeland Security received information that El Mezcal was not completing employment eligibility forms as required. A DHS agent later discovered that the restaurant did not have I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms for 14 employees. Sanchez was served a final order in November 2011 to cease violations and pay a fine.
Grissom said on Friday that Sanchez continued to employ and provide housing for people living in the country without proper documentation and working at the El Mezcal Restaurant in Ottawa and other restaurants affiliated with Tequila, Inc., paying the workers in cash.
Sanchez faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted.