WATERVILLE – Customers are busing tables, washing dishes and helping to cook at Cancun Mexican Restaurant.

They’re volunteering throughout the business to help owner Hector Fuentes keep it running after he was arrested Sept. 21 and some of his employees were detained by U.S. customs agents.

“This town is pulling together for him,” said Jerica Parker, 21, a member of the restaurant’s staff. “We have tons of people coming in, willing to help, leaving their phone numbers.”

One volunteer is Alek Fortier, 31, an insurance agent who works next to the restaurant at State Farm Insurance.

“We just want to help keep things uninterrupted,” Fortier said. “I came in Friday night and Saturday night and washed dishes, and we had people who couldn’t wait to help.

“Everybody loves Hector. People were walking in all night and saying, ‘What can I do?’ “

Fuentes owns both the restaurant here and Cancun Mexican Restaurant II in Biddeford. His brother Guillermo, who owns Fajita Grill in Westbrook, also was arrested Sept. 21. Both face charges that include hiring and harboring illegal aliens. Eleven of their employees have been jailed.

The arrests came after armed federal agents raided their restaurants and other properties. The Fuenteses were released on bail the following day.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty II announced Friday that six of the restaurant workers detained Sept. 21 were charged with possession of false lawful permanent resident and Social Security cards. They are: Santos Herasmo Elias-Lopez, Esteban Lopez-Cruz, Salvador Carmona-Ramirez, Enrique Ruiz-De La Cruz, Ernesto Bravo-Rodriguez and Arturo Serrato-Rodriguez.

Two workers, Zaqueo Nectali Elias-Lopez and Catalino Lopez-Gomez, were charged with possession of false documents and unlawful presence in the United States after having been removed.

At Cancun in Waterville this week, Hector Fuentes’ young daughters were playing in a booth and talking with customers.

Hector Fuentes declined to comment, but volunteers said he has been working long hours at the restaurant every day.

“People want to see Hector succeed because he’s here every night at dinner time. He’s here every morning,” Fortier said. “He’s here at the crack of dawn and here till closing. People come in here specifically for Hector. My wife’s family is from out of town — they live in New Hampshire — and they come up specifically to come here.”

Fortier said a chef at another restaurant in town comes to help Fuentes cook lunch every day, and his father comes in every day to do preparation work.

Kati White, 19, started working at Cancun only a few days after some of the workers were taken away.

“I think it’s good that people are helping out the regular workers,” White said. “I think that’s really nice. A lot of people do ask questions, but I’m not able to answer them, because I don’t know the details of what happened.”

White said regular customers come in, eat and help out by washing dishes and cleaning tables.

Parker said people want to make sure that the restaurant does not close.

“The community won’t lose this. Nobody’s going to let it happen,” she said.

Fortier agreed.

“I know Hector, and he’s one of the most peaceful guys you could ever find,” he said.

“He’s a great neighbor. He cares a lot about downtown Waterville, and he’s always looking for something to do to improve the place.”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Amy Calder can be reached at 861-9247 or:

[email protected]