Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Restaurant Owner, Managers Among 19 Charged in RICO Indictment

 Criminal Enterprise Employed Undocumented Workers at Dozens of Mexican Restaurants in Several States

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The owner of dozens of Mexican restaurants in several states, along with the company’s president, CFO, controller and sales manager are among 19 defendants charged in a federal racketeering conspiracy to hire undocumented workers. Also among those charged are eight current or former managers of restaurants located in Butler, Springfield, Lebanon, West Plains, Willow Springs and St. Robert in Missouri; and in Overland Park, Great Bend and Augustus in Kansas.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents, with the assistance of numerous local, states, and federal agencies, executed a series of search warrants today at 10 locations in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Federal agents have so far arrested 14 of the 19 defendants.

Jose Luis Bravo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Claremore, Oklahoma; Jose Guadalupe Razo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Carl Junction, Mo.; Anthony Edward Doll, 43, a citizen of Guatemala, and Miguel Tarin-Martinez, 42, a naturalized U.S. citizen, both of Joplin, Mo.; Antonio Martinez-Munoz, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Broken Arrow, Okla.; Eusebio Ramirez-Ceja, 50, a citizen of Mexico residing in Mountain Home, Arkansas; Oscar Adrian Molina-Angulo, 38, a citizen of Mexico residing in Butler, Mo.;  Rodrigo Manrique Razo, 38, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Great Bend, Kan.; Alejandro Castillo-Ramirez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in Augusta, Kan.; Juan Carlos Palma-Cedeno, 36, a citizen of Mexico residing in Claremore, Okla.; Ramon Moreno-Hernandez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in Nevada, Mo.; Jose Luis Lopez-Valadez, 41, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of West Plains, Mo.; Lorenzo Castro-Manzanarez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in St. Robert, Mo.; Jaime Ramirez-Ceja, 42, a citizen of Mexico residing in Lebanon, Mo.; Jose Luis Rodriguez-Valerio, 57, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Tulsa, Okla.;  Veronica Razo De Lara, 46, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Great Bend, Kan.; Edgar Perez-Perez, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Bernardo Rivas-Gomez, 48, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Elizabeth City, North Carolina; and Daniel Rivas-Carrillo, 23, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Elizabeth City, N.C.; were charged in a 64-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 10, 2021. That indictment was unsealed and made public today upon the arrests and initial court appearances of the defendants.

The federal indictment alleges that 17 of the 19 co-defendants were part of an organized criminal enterprise from July 2003 to Aug. 10, 2021, that smuggled Mexican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadoran nationals who were not authorized to live or work in the United States. Conspirators allegedly harbored them in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Bravo, Doll, Tarin-Martinez and Jose Razo created a network of restaurants operating as LLCs in states throughout the Midwest. Bravo and his co-conspirators allegedly supplied these restaurants with undocumented workers to staff positions at the restaurants. According to the indictment, conspirators did not pay the appropriate state and federal payroll taxes, overtime wages, and worker's compensation for the unauthorized employees.

In addition to smuggling and harboring undocumented workers, the indictment alleges the racketeering activity included fraud (in connection with identification documents), fraud and misuse of visas and other documents, and money laundering. Members and associates of the criminal enterprise shielded unauthorized employees from detection by immigration authorities by eliminating records of their employment, paying them by personal check and in cash, failing to maintain complete and accurate Forms I-9 and required wage and hour reports for these employees, assisting them with the acquisition of false identification documents (such as Social Security numbers and alien resident documents), and making false statements to immigration authorities and law enforcement officials.

Bravo, identified in the indictment as the leader of the enterprise, is the owner of Specialty Food Distribution in Joplin. Bravo is also the owner of a group of restaurants registered as Bravos Group, LLC, including El Charro, El Charrito, Playa Azul, Itza, LLC, Cantina Bravo, and El Chango.

Specialty Food Distribution is a wholesale distributor of food, supplies, and equipment to restaurants throughout the Midwest. Specialty Food Distribution also provides administrative and accounting support to restaurants in the areas of payroll. insurance, licensing, taxes, and legal services. Several restaurants serviced by Specialty Food Distribution allegedly employed aliens who were unauthorized to work in the United States.

According to the indictment, 31 limited liability companies (LLCs) operated 45 Mexican restaurants in multiple states and at least an additional 11 companies were involved in restaurant supply and logistics, real estate and construction. These 45 restaurants received goods and services from Specialty Food Distribution and another company, Intel Solutions, LLC. After federal inspections occurred at restaurants affiliated with conspirators, the indictment says, they formed Intel Solutions to assume those administrative duties, in name only, as a way to conceal and minimize the level of involvement in the inspected restaurants by members and associates of the criminal enterprise. Intel Solutions later changed its name to Entel Solutions, LLC.

According to the indictment, Bravo supplied unauthorized alien workers to managers at restaurants in which he had a financial interest. Bravo arranged to have undocumented workers smuggled into the United States to work at these restaurants and other businesses, the indictment says. Bravo allegedly assisted these aliens with obtaining fraudulent documents that would allow them to work in the United States. He allegedly helped secure transportation and lodging for them en route to restaurants where they were to work.

Jose Razo is the president of Specialty Food Distribution. Razo allegedly employed unauthorized workers at Specialty Foods Distribution as salesmen and warehouse workers, and directed other employees to limit these workers’ exposure to potential immigration inspections. Jose Razo also allegedly counseled restaurant managers on how to manage, document, and compensate unauthorized workers in ways that would minimize their detection by immigration officials.

Doll is the chief financial officer of Specialty Food Distribution. Tarin-Martinez is employed as controller of Specialty Food Distribution. Martinez-Munoz is employed as a sales manager of Specialty Food Distribution.

Ramirez-Ceja is a manager of several El Charro Restaurants in Arkansas and Missouri, as well as some Playa Azul restaurants in Kansas. Molina-Angulo is the manager of the El Charro Restaurant in Butler. Castillo-Ramirez is the manager of El Charro Restaurant in Augustus. Lopez-Valadez is the manager of Cantina Bravo in St. Robert and the El Charro Restaurants in West Plains. Castro-Manzanarez is the manager at Cantina Bravo in St. Robert. Ramirez-Ceja is the manager of the El Charro Restaurant in Springfield and in Lebanon. Rodriguez-Valerio was until recently manager of Bravos Mexican Grill in Overland Park. Razo De Lara is the manager of Maria’s Mexican Grill in Great Bend.

According to the federal indictment, the investigation began when the Kansas Department of Labor contacted Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) regarding allegations that unauthorized aliens were employed at the Bravos Mexican Grill in Overland Park. When HSI announced a Form I-9 inspection on July 16, 2018, agents discovered that 14 of the 17 Bravos employees whose I-9 forms had been inspected were ineligible to work. During another inspection of Bravos on Feb. 28, 2019, agents identified eight unauthorized aliens working there. Five of those employees had been identified previously as ineligible to work.

On June 7, 2019, HSI inspected 10 restaurants in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Those restaurants operated under LLCs, doing business as El Charro (Claremore, Butler and Springfield), Playa Azul (Great Bend, Pratt, Kan., and Wichita, Kan.), Iguana Azul (Nevada, Mo.), Los Sauces (Nevada, Mo.), and La Paloma (Springfield). All of them were found to have employed unauthorized workers. Approximately 68 percent of the employees audited at the restaurants were not authorized to work in the United States.

On Sept. 13, 2019, HSI agents inspected restaurants in Missouri and Kansas that were affiliated with the defendants. Those restaurants operated under LLCs doing business as Cantina Bravo (St. Robert), Cantina Bravo Grille (Webb City, Mo.), El Charro (Neosho, Mo., Marshfield, Mo., West Plains, Joplin, and Pittsburg, Kansas), Maria's Mexican Grill (Great Bend), and Playa Azul (Augusta). All of the restaurants were found to have employed unauthorized employees.

All of the defendants, with the exception of Rivas-Gomez and Rivas-Carrillo, are charged with participating in the racketeering conspiracy. Rivas-Gomez and Rivas-Carrillo are each charged with one count of the use of an unlawfully obtained document and one count of the false representation of a Social Security number.

In addition to the RICO conspiracy, defendants are charged in various counts of transporting illegal aliens, hiring illegal aliens, continuing employment of an unauthorized alien, use of unlawfully obtained documents, false attestations, false representations of Social Security numbers, and the unlawful production and transfer of identification documents.

Bravo, Molina-Angulo and Palma-Cedeno are also charged with participating in a conspiracy to commit identification document fraud.

Bravo, Moreno-Hernandez, Castro-Manzanarez, and Perez-Perez are also charged with participating in a conspiracy to transport aliens.

Bravo, Doll, Razo, Tarin-Martinez, and Lopez-Valadez are also charged with participating in a money-laundering conspiracy and in various counts of money laundering.

The indictment also contains forfeiture allegations against several defendants, which would require them to forfeit to the government the funds contained in several bank accounts as well as real estate located in Great Bend, Pittsburg, and Augusta in Kansas; Butler, Joplin, and West Plains in Missouri; and Claremore, Okmulgee, Muskogee, Enid, and Tahlequah in Oklahoma.

The charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rudolph R. Rhodes IV. It was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and IRS-Criminal Investigations.

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