The owners and managers of an area restaurant chain have been indicted by a federal grand jury, charged with hiring undocumented workers.
The defendants ran seven Mexican restaurants in the area — a few Mariachi Locos and Mariachi Cocos in Akron and Jackson Township; Mariachi Mexican Grills in Akron and Stow, and Plaza Maya Mexican Restaurant in Tallmadge.
They are: Owners Miguel Castro, 44, and Monica Castro, 43, both of Uniontown; and managers Cesar Castro, 28, of Akron; Aldo Castro, 42, of Akron; Pedro Cervantes, 39, of Mexico; and Gustavo Torres, 45, of Kent.
The 23-count indictment includes conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens, aiding and abetting the harboring of undocumented aliens, harboring undocumented aliens, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud.
According to court documents, all six defendants are facing charges that carry penalties of up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
Federal prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of more than $16.4 million in profits generated by the restaurants.
An attorney for Miguel and Monica Castro did not return calls Friday.
As of Friday evening, five of the seven restaurants had closed.
According to the indictment, from January 2002 to May 2013 the defendants allegedly hired at least 36 undocumented workers and routinely paid them less than minimum wage, sometimes paying them only in tips.
"The owners and managers of these restaurants took advantage of their workers' immigration status for their own profit," said Steven Dettelbach, US Attorney for the Northern District, in a news release.
The defendants knowingly hired undocumented workers because they could be easily manipulated and convinced to work for cash "under the table," for less than state minimum wage and would not have to be paid overtime — a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the indictment.
The defendants knew workers would be unlikely to report violations of the law, given their own undocumented status, according to the indictment.
The defendants allegedly shielded the undocumented workers by paying them outside the normal payroll system and falsely reporting the number and identity of employees on the Quarterly Wage Reports required by the state, the indictment said.
According to indictment, after Miguel Castro was cited by the US Department of Labor in 2010, the defendants began altering the payroll system to include more employees. The defendants listed people who were not actually employed at the restaurant on the payroll, and employees were allowed to work under assumed identities. In several cases, employees were instructed to return endorsed payroll checks to the restaurant in exchange for a cash payment less than what they earned.
The defendants also found and paid for worker's housing, including a home in Akron and apartments in Akron and Cuyahoga Falls. And Miguel and Monica Castro allegedly instructed undocumented workers on how to obtain counterfeit identification documents and lending them the money to do so, according to the indictment.
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Miguel and Monica Castro are also charged with making false statements to federal agents. In August 2012, the pair allegedly told federal agents they did not know any of their employees were undocumented.
In August, the restaurants were raided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, leading to the arrest of 35 workers, according to an Aug. 23 2012, article in the Akron Beacon Journal. The arrests sparked protests outside the Summit County Courthouse.
Monica Castro was arraigned Dec. 12. She pled not guilty and was released after paying her $20,000 bond. Cesar Castro was also arraigned Dec. 12, pled not guilty, and paid his bond of $30,000.
Miguel and Aldo Castro are set to be arraigned Dec. 16.
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On Twitter: @jholbrookREP