GULFPORT, Miss. — The owner and three managers of three local restaurants are facing federal charges related to the conspiracy to knowingly employ illegal aliens and to harbor them from authorities following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Federal special agents arrested the owner and three managers via criminal complaint and served search warrants Thursday at two restaurants in Picayune, Miss., and one restaurant in Poplarville, Miss. Special agents also criminally arrested two Mexican citizens for re-entering the United States after deportation, which is a federal felony. A total of 16 illegal alien males working illegally at the three restaurants were taken into custody and processed for deportation proceedings.
"With HSI's aggressive approach to worksite enforcement investigations, business owners are taking a big gamble when they seek to enhance their profits by breaking the law," said Raymond R. Parmer, Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New Orleans. "Our special agents will continue to work closely with our partners at the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate and prosecute these crimes." Parmer is responsible for HSI operations in the states of Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.
Owner Jose Gutierrez, 36, and employees Vicente Jimenez, 39, Juan Barajas, 58, and Evaristo Jimenez, 38, have all made their initial appearances in federal court. They are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
Criminal investigations are just one of many tools HSI is using to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect job opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce. That enforcement strategy also includes the expanded use of civil penalties, employer audits and debarment. In fiscal year 2011, HSI initiated audits involving 2,496 employers nationwide – surpassing the record number conducted in all of fiscal year 2010. During that same time frame, HSI issued 385 final fine notices totaling more than $10 million to employers across the country, again surpassing the record fine total in fiscal year 2010.
A criminal complaint is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.