WESTBROOK – City officials renewed the liquor license for the popular Fajita Grill on Monday, after determining that their decision could not take into account pending federal charges against the owner of the Mexican restaurant.

Guillermo Fuentes, 36, was arrested Sept. 21 on charges of conspiracy to harbor illegal immigrants and employment of illegal immigrants.

City Solicitor Bill Dale told city councilors and the mayor that pending charges are not listed in the city’s ordinance or state statute as a reason for denying a liquor license.

The applicant’s character can be considered, Dale said. So, if Fuentes is convicted on the charges, the city could revoke the liquor license, he said.

A couple of councilors said they were concerned by reports of volunteers helping out at the restaurant because of a staffing shortage.

Several workers were detained after a raid on the restaurant by federal immigration agents on the day Fuentes was arrested. Agents also raided Cancun Mexican restaurants in Biddeford and Waterville, which are owned by Fuentes’s brother, who faces the same charges.

Westbrook councilors asked the city’s code enforcement and police officers to make sure that the restaurant, which reopened less than a week after the raid, was operating in compliance with local laws.

The municipal officers, which comprise the City Council and mayor, voted unanimously to renew the liquor license.

Also on Monday, councilors called on the administration to provide details, including the cost, of corrective action taken in the finance department since an audit identified deficient bookkeeping.

Councilors made the request during a presentation to the Finance Committee on a new set of policies being developed for the department.

Adopting the policies was one of the recommendations made by an auditor that reviewed the city’s finances from the 2009-10 fiscal year. The accounting firm – Roberts, Green and Drolet of Barnstead, N.H. – found “significant deficiencies” and “material weaknesses” in the department.

Although the audit did not conclude that money had been mismanaged, it determined that the practices at the time could have allowed fraud.

Chief Financial Officer Dawn Ouellette, who was hired in May 2010, said she has implemented the new policies, but they still need to be adopted by the council.

Ouellette, a former auditor, is the first finance chief for both the city and the school department.

The consolidated position replaced the schools’ business manager, a position vacated by Michael Kucsma in 2009, and the city’s finance director, a position held by Susan Rossignol for 32 years.

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