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October 18, 2016Buffalo, NY, United StatesLabor Exploitation

Owner of 4 Buffalo restaurants charged in conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens

BUFFALO, N.Y. - The owner of four Buffalo-area restaurants, and two other defendants were charged by criminal complaint in federal court Tuesday with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. The charges follow an extensive probe led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The men charged in the complaint were Sergio Ramses Mucino, 42, Jose Sanchez-Ocampo, 37, and Marguin Sanchez, 22, all of Buffalo. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine.

“Building and supporting a business through the intentional use of people not lawfully authorized to work here is a model that HSI will not tolerate," said Kevin Sibley, acting special agent in charge of HSI Buffalo. "These alleged practices not only put competitors at an economic disadvantage, they often come at the peril of the workers.”

“This office will continue to ensure that all employers play by the same set of rules regarding the operation of their business,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York William J. Hochul, Jr.. “This is particularly true in the restaurant industry, where health, safety, and financial rules apply to protect the public and staff alike.”

In addition, Juan Carlos Bernal-Lujano, 51, and Miguel Sanchez-Ocampo, 30, were charged with illegal re-entry after a felony conviction. Abel Cruz-Martinez, 46, Aida Ramirez-Arellano, 23, Alejandro Valadez-Leon, 47, and Aracelli Lopez-Martinez, 33, were also charged with illegal re-entry.

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian J. Counihan, who is handling the case, stated that according to the complaint, Mucino, with the assistance of Sanchez-Ocampo and Sanchez, operates four restaurants in the City of Buffalo, Town of Cheektowaga and Village of Kenmore. The restaurants, where Mucino allegedly employs multiple unauthorized individuals, include Don Tequila on Allen Street in Buffalo, El Agave on Union Road in Cheektowaga, Agave on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, and La Divina on Delaware Avenue in Kenmore.

In March 2016, HSI received information that Mucino made all decisions regarding hiring and employee remuneration. The investigation further revealed that a majority of the workforce at Mucino’s restaurants are undocumented employees who are paid weekly in cash and that there are one or two legal employees per restaurant who receive payroll checks. After paying each employee in cash, each business allegedly grosses approximately $50,000 in cash, per week, none of which is reported for state or federal taxes.

A review of four bank accounts associated with the restaurants showed that Mucino would frequently commingle payroll and monthly expenses among these accounts. Between   Jan. 1, 2014 and June 2016, Mucino issued and endorsed checks to Sanchez-Ocampo, identified as his “right hand man” totaling approximately $278,432. And between June 27, 2015 and Oct. 20, 2015, Mucino issued and endorsed checks to Marquin Sanchez totaling approximately $102,476.38.

Ongoing surveillance between July 2014 and the present found 38 workers employed at the restaurants and living in nine apartments and two houses within close proximity to the restaurants. The investigation determined that the nine apartments are being rented and paid for Mucino and Sanchez-Ocampo and the two houses were purchased by Marguin Sanchez in cash for the purpose of housing the illegal workers. The complaint further alleges the employees worked six days a week, 14 hours a day and are paid approximately $500 to $800 in cash, per week.

Mucino and Sanchez-Ocampo have been arrested and will make an initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroder. Marguin Sanchez has not yet been taken into custody.

During this today’s operation, officers seized a 2008 Ford Edge and a 2016 Cadillac Escalade allegedly used to transport the workers as well as a 2009 Porsche Boxter which was purchased with the illegal restaurant proceeds.     

The complaint is the result of an investigation by HSI and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.