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Casa Fiesta owner face charges for hiring illegal aliens

CLEVELAND, Ohio - The owner of a northern Ohio-based Mexican restaurant chain was charged today with eight counts of harboring and concealing illegal aliens, three counts of mail fraud, and seven counts of subscribing to a false tax return following an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation.

Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, joined U.S. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton in the announcement.

"These criminal charges represent ICE's firm commitment to holding employers accountable for brazenly ignoring immigration laws as it relates to their workforce," said Morton. "In order to create a culture of compliance among businesses, ICE will take the necessary actions, including leveling both criminal and civil fines against employers."

According to the investigation, Ramon J. Ornelas, 42, of Norwalk, Ohio, was the principal owner of eight Casa Fiesta Mexican restaurants located in Youngstown, Vermilion, Ashland, Norwalk, Fremont, Oberlin, Oregon and Sandusky, Ohio. It is alleged that the restaurants regularly employed numerous undocumented workers, failed to obtain proper immigration documents for such workers, sometimes provided places to live for the workers, routinely paid the workers in cash without withholding of FICA and Medicare taxes, and submitted false documents to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services which did not report the names of undocumented workers.

In July 2008, federal search warrants were executed at each restaurant, and 58 undocumented Mexican nationals employed at the restaurants were taken into the custody of ICE. In addition to harboring and concealing the illegal aliens, the information also charges Ornelas with filing false Forms 941, Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return, for not claiming the undocumented workers and underreporting the tax due and owing the Internal Revenue Service.

Ornelas is also charged with mail fraud for filing false Ohio Contribution Reports with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, thus underreporting the number of workers at the restaurants and therefore underpaying taxes due the state for unemployment insurance.

The actual sentence in this case, upon conviction, will be determined by the court under the advisory Federal Sentencing Guidelines which depend upon a number of factors unique to each case, including the defendant's prior criminal record, if any, the defendant's role in the offense and the unique characteristics of the violation. In all cases the sentence will not exceed the statutory maximum and in most cases it be less than the maximum.

The IRS Criminal Investigation Division and the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General also assisted in the case. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David O. Bauer.

These charges are not evidence of guilt. The burden of proof is always on the government to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.