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Feds link eateries to alleged racketeering scheme | News

A Muskogee restaurant plans to keep its doors open while federal prosecutors pursue racketeering charges against the property owner alleged to have taken part in a conspiracy that involves money laundering and harboring undocumented workers. 

Jose Luis Bravo of Claremore was named as the lead defendant in a 64-count indictment unsealed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Western Missouri that identifies 19 co-conspirators — four of them from Oklahoma. Bravo, according to corporate filings in Missouri, holds leadership positions and ownership interests in Specialty Food Distribution Inc., of Joplin, Missouri, and more than 30 limited liability companies that operated 45 Mexican restaurants in several states.

Those restaurants, according to the indictment, include El Charro in Muskogee and Cantina Bravo at Tahlequah. The alleged conspiracy involved another 11 LLCs that handled restaurant supply and logistics, and real estate and construction operations. 

Prosecutors allege Bravo provided unauthorized alien workers to managers at restaurants with which he had financial interests. Bravo allegedly arranged for the undocumented workers to be smuggled into the United States and helped them find jobs once they arrived. 

As part of the alleged scheme, prosecutors say Bravo helped aliens obtain fraudulent documents required to work in the United States. He also is alleged to have helped secure transportation and lodging for undocumented workers en route to the restaurants where they worked.

Jose Razo, also identified as president of Specialty Food Distribution, allegedly employed unauthorized workers as salesmen and warehouse workers at SFD. He allegedly directed other employees to shield these workers from exposure to potential immigration inspections and counseled restaurant managers about how to manage, document, and compensate unauthorized workers to minimize detection.

The investigation, court documents show, began when the Kansas Department of Labor contacted Homeland Security Investigations about allegations of unauthorized aliens working at the Bravos Mexican Grill in Overland Park. When HSI announced a Form I-9 inspection on July 16, 2018, agents found that 14 of 17 employees were ineligible to work. 

Subsequent inspections in February, June and September 2019 of restaurants linked to the defendants revealed an alleged pattern of the use of unauthorized workers. 

The indictment identifies assets that include real and personal property prosecutors intend to seize as fruits of the alleged crime for forfeiture. Notices of the pending litigation were filed with the court against El Charro in Muskogee and Cantina Bravo in Tahlequah. 

An employee at El Charro who declined to provide an identity said the managers, who took over in October, plan to keep the restaurant open until they are told differently. The restaurant was open on Thursday. 

Other Oklahoma residents charged as co-conspirators along with Bravo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen, were Antonio Martinez-Munoz, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Broken Arrow, Juan Carlos Palma-Cedeno, 36, a citizen of Mexico residing in Claremore, and Jose Luis Rodriguez-Valerio, 57, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Tulsa. 

Martinez-Munoz is identified in the indictment as a sales manager at SFD, a wholesale distributor of food, restaurant supplies and equipment throughout the Midwest. Martinez-Munoz was charged as a co-conspirator in the racketeering scheme. 

Palma-Cedeno worked at SFD, which also provided administrative and accounting services for the restaurants.  Palma-Cedeno was charged with racketeering and helping secure false identification documents for unauthorized workers. 

Rodriguez-Valerio, a manager at an SFD-affiliated restaurant, faces a racketeering charge for his alleged involvement of hiring unauthorized workers. He also is accused of renting an apartment where unauthorized workers lived. 

Missouri residents named in the 54-page indictment include Jose Guadalupe Razo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Carl Junction; Joplin residents Anthony Edward Doll, 43, a citizen of Guatemala, and Miguel Tarin-Martinez, 42, a naturalized U.S. citizen; Oscar Adrian Molina-Angulo, 38, a citizen of Mexico residing in Butler; Ramon Moreno-Hernandez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in Nevada; Jose Luis Lopez-Valadez, 41, a naturalized U.S. citizen of West Plains; Lorenzo Castro-Manzanarez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in St. Robert; and Jaime Ramirez-Ceja, 42, a citizen of Mexico residing in Lebanon.

Also charged were Eusebio Ramirez-Ceja, 50, a citizen of Mexico residing in Mountain Home, Arkansas; Great Bend, Kansas, residents Rodrigo Manrique Razo, 38, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and Veronica Razo De Lara, 46, a naturalized U.S. citizen; Alejandro Castillo-Ramirez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in Augusta, Kansas; Edgar Perez-Perez, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Elizabeth City, North Carolina, residents Bernardo Rivas-Gomez, 48, and Daniel Rivas-Carrillo, 23, both citizens of Guatemala. 

The 64-count indictment was returned Aug. 10 under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Missouri. It was unsealed Wednesday and made public upon the defendants’ arrests and initial court appearances.

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