Federal agents arrested the father-son owners of Chuy's Mesquite Broiler restaurant chain on Wednesday for hiring illegal immigrants and paying them under the table.
Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service were at the four Chuy's locations in Tucson Wednesday morning serving search warrants. Other agents were at Chuy's locations in Phoenix and California.
The owners of Chuy's - Mark Evenson, 58, of Paradise Valley, Ariz., and his son, Christopher Evenson, 39, of Oro Valley - were arrested along with the company's accountant, Diane Strehlow, 47, of Tempe, according to a news release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The trio is being charged with a variety of criminal violations, including unlawful hiring and harboring of illegal immigrants, conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, and tax evasion.
If convicted, Mark Evenson could face up to 86 years in prison and a $5.3 million fine. His son, Christopher Evenson, could face up to 81 years in prison and a $5 million fine. The accountant, Strehlow, could face up to 40 years and a $2 million fine. The three will be arraigned in federal court in Tucson on Thursday, the release says.
Agents also arrested 40 illegal immigrants they encountered at Chuy's locations in Arizona and California, including 18 in Tucson, said Vincent Picard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman.
The Chuy's on East 22nd Street at South Kolb Road has a separate franchise owner. Owner J. Brian Latta said he wants everyone to know his Chuy’s is not involved in the investigation. He came to Arizona from California with Mark Evenson to start the chain but the business associates went in separate directions in 2003.
“I hope it doesn’t hurt my business,” Latta said.
The arrests are the culmination of a two year investigation. The Evensons hired illegal immigrants to work in the kitchens in 15 Chuy's restaurants in Arizona and California, paying them off the books to avoid paying taxes, the release says.
People authorized to work in the U.S. were hired to work as servers and other restaurant jobs and were paid through normal payroll practices.
Mark Evenson instructed employees not to run personal information of the illegal workers through government databases because it would "kick it back" or that federal agents would "come and pick them up," shows the court indictment.
After receiving a complaint about illegal workers at a Lake Havasu City Chuy's, Mark Evenson told an employee that "throwing some American people in there," might stop the complaints.
When an employee told Christopher Evenson that a person he wanted to hire who was working at another restaurant was an illegal immigrant, Christopher Evenson told the employee that the other restaurant did "the same thing," the indictment shows.
The company failed to pay at least $400,000 in Federal Insurance Contribution Act (Social Security Medicare) taxes during the course of the time they were being investigated.
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