WESTBROOK – Armed federal agents descended Wednesday morning on a popular Mexican restaurant that has employed illegal immigrants since it opened in 2006, according to court documents.

Guillermo Fuentes, 35, owner of the Fajita Grill on Main Street, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and employment of illegal aliens. His brother, Hector Fuentes, who owns Cancun Mexican restaurants in Biddeford and Waterville, was arrested on the same charges.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s investigation into the employment of illegal aliens at the Fajita Grill was prompted by a tip from Westbrook police Capt. Tom Roth, court documents say.

The documents said Roth informed the federal agency that in routine traffic stops in April 2008, Westbrook police officers had pulled over Hispanic men who appeared to work at Fajita Grill, claimed to be from Mexico and could not provide any U.S. identification.

During the investigation, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security interviewed four illegal aliens, all of whom had worked for the Fuentes brothers at a Mexican restaurant in Atlanta called El Potrillo.

They said they moved in 2006 with about a dozen other employees to work for the Fuentes brothers at the Fajita Grill and later at one or both of the Cancun restaurants.

They told the special agent they were paid $300 to $500 per week in cash for working about 60 hours.

The criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, dated Tuesday, says that from 2006 to 2009 in Maine and elsewhere, the Fuentes brothers conspired to conceal, harbor and shield aliens who entered and stayed in the U.S. illegally.

It also says that from at least 2006 to 2011, the brothers engaged in a pattern of hiring those aliens, knowing they were unauthorized for employment.

The complaint, signed by James Bell, special agent with the Department of Homeland Security, says he spoke with four immigrants who worked at the Fuentes’ restaurants and were paid in cash.

One of them said he was employed at the Fajita Grill as a bus person, worked about 60 hours a week and was paid about $320 in cash. Another reportedly came to the U.S. illegally in 2005 from Mexico and was paid only with tips, earning $450 to $500 a week.

Three of the people who were interviewed reportedly told Bell that when they arrived in Maine, they and seven or eight other illegal workers temporarily lived rent-free in the basement of the Fajita Grill.

“The workers slept on cardboard and blankets and used buckets of water to bathe,” the complaint says. “Guillermo and Hector Fuentes lived in the basement with the workers for about one and a half months following the opening of the restaurant.”

Westbrook Code Enforcement Officer Richard Gouzie reportedly inspected the Fajita Grill and saw evidence – including a mattress, a television, a couch and a bathroom – that someone was living in the basement.

Gouzie asked Guillermo Fuentes if anyone was living in the basement, according to the complaint. “Fuentes informed Gouzie that some of the Fajita Grill workers utilized the basement in order to ‘rest,'” it says.

A witness to the raid in Westbrook, who declined to be identified, said a helicopter flew overhead as a swarm of federal agents entered the Fajita Grill about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

In the following hours, agents continued to enter and exit the building at 857 Main St., while people who planned to eat lunch there looked confused as they yanked on the locked doors and pressed their faces against the large windows, peering into the dark restaurant.

Soon after it opened, Fajita Grill became a hotspot in Westbrook, known for its fast service, lively wait staff and super-sized margaritas.

Conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants is a felony that is punishable by as much as 10 years in prison, a fine up to $250,000 or both.

Engaging in a pattern or practice of hiring unauthorized aliens for employment is punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine of up to $3,000 for each unauthorized immigrant.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Amy Calder contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at [email protected]

 


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