GREENBELT, Md. - Francisco C. Solano, 56, of Germantown, Maryland, co-owner of El Pollo Rico Restaurant in Wheaton, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to harbor aliens, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and structuring bank transactions to evade reporting requirements in connection with the operation of the restaurant, announced Julie L. Myers, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.
The restaurant owner's wife, Ines Hoyos-Solano, 60, also of Germantown, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit money laundering. This was an ICE-led investigation.
"ICE's comprehensive approach to worksite enforcement is helping turn the tables on unscrupulous criminals who use illegal workers to cut costs and gain a competitive advantage against law abiding businesses," said Assistant Secretary Myers. "Solano and his wife put greed ahead of the law; now they'll pay a hefty price for their actions."
"Prosecutions such as this case are essential if we want to give law-abiding businesses a fair chance to compete," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. "Employers who hire illegal aliens off the books and pay them in cash gain an unfair advantage over honest businesspeople who work hard and play by the rules. Francisco Solano and his wife Ines Hoyos-Solano now face federal prison time for their criminal scheme, and the millions of dollars in profits that they stashed in cash in their homes will be forfeited to the government along with their houses, vehicles, jewelry and other assets."
On applications filed by the defendants for workers compensation and residential loans, Francisco was president and his sister, Consuelo Solano, was vice president of El Pollo Rico, the restaurant they owned. Juan Faustino Solano, the brother of Francisco Solano, was manager and Ines Solano was the business manager of the restaurant.
According to his guilty plea, from January 1999 to July 2007, Francisco Solano concealed illegal aliens in residences and businesses they owned and rented in Wheaton and Kensington, Md. He paid the aliens in cash and accepted rent payments in cash only. Francisco Solano did not prepare Employment Eligibility Verification Forms, which establish the eligibility of an individual to be employed in the United States legally, for those employees.
In addition, Francisco laundered the proceeds from the illegal employment of aliens. Francisco and others deposited more than $6 million from the operation of the restaurant into the El Pollo Rico business account from 2002 to 2007. Transfers were made from the El Pollo Rico business account to business and personal accounts in the names of Francisco and other co-conspirators. Funds from those deposits were used to pay for personal assets, including property, jewelry, collectible coins, cars and investment accounts. At least one laundering transaction was made into an account in the name of Francisco and Ines Solano. Over time, Francisco Solano also transferred money from his personal and business accounts into the El Pollo Rico business account to promote the business operations he and others used to harbor aliens.
Finally, between 2002 and 2006, Francisco Solano structured deposits into the El Pollo Rico business account in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid triggering bank reporting requirements that could reveal criminal conduct. During this time, he deposited over $7.2 million into the El Pollo Rico business account and other accounts, including his personal account. Over the course of any 12 month period between Jan. 2, 2002 and Sept. 29, 2006, he structured and caused to be structured amounts in excess of $100,000.
As a result of his leadership role in alien harboring and in conducting these deposits, transfers, and purchases involving the proceeds of alien harboring, Francisco Solano will receive an enhanced sentence for managing and organizing the criminal activity.
According to Ines Solano's guilty plea, she knew that aliens were harbored at El Pollo Rico and with her knowledge and approval, let her husband use proceeds from the harboring to purchase a $120,000 life insurance policy in their joint names.
As part of the plea, Francisco has agreed to forfeit nearly $7.2 million derived from the illegal activities, including 13 bank and investor accounts; seven properties located in Wheaton, Kensington, and Silver Spring, Md., and in Arlington, Va.; three vehicles; collectible coins and, jewelry. Ines Solano has agreed to forfeit $1,572,218 in cash found in the bedroom of her residence during a search on July 12, 2007, and in partial satisfaction of the amount, money held in two bank accounts; property in Silver Spring, Maryland; collectible coins; and jewelry. Both defendants also agreed to cooperate with the IRS in the assessment and collection of their tax liabilities for the years 2000-2007.
Both defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison for the money laundering conspiracy. In addition, Francisco Solano faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for the harboring conspiracy and five years in prison for structuring transactions to evade reporting requirements. U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus has scheduled sentencing for Francisco Solano on Nov. 24, 2008, at 2 p.m. and for Ines Solano on Nov. 24, 2008, at 3 p.m.
Consuelo Solano, 70, of Arlington, Va., and her brother Juan Faustino Solano, 57, of Kensington, Md., pleaded guilty on June 12, 2008, to the money laundering conspiracy, and Juan Solano also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor aliens. Judge Titus scheduled their sentencing for Sept. 24 and 29, 2008 at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.
Thus far in fiscal year 2008 (October 2007 through July 12, 2008), ICE has made 949 criminal arrests in connection with worksite enforcement investigations. Of those, 105 involve owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees who face charges ranging from harboring to knowingly hiring illegal aliens. In addition to the criminal arrests, ICE has made more than 3,500 administrative arrests for immigration violations during worksite investigations in that same time frame. Last year, ICE made more than 4,900 arrests in worksite enforcement cases, including 863 involving criminal violations. Furthermore, in fiscal year 2007, ICE obtained more than $31 million in criminal fines, restitutions and civil judgments as a result of worksite related enforcement actions.