September 23, 2011

Mexican eateries temporarily shut following arrests

One of the two brothers facing immigration charges posts bail as patrons lament the closings.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

and Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Hector Fuentes, owner of the Cancun restaurants in Biddeford and Waterville, was released from Cumberland County Jail on Thursday, a day after he and his brother, who operates another Mexican restaurant, the Fajita Grill in Westbrook, were arrested on charges of harboring and employing illegal immigrants.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led to a raid Wednesday at the Fajita Grill and to the arrest of its owner, Guillermo Fuentes, 35, as well as 37-year-old Hector.

Hector Fuentes was released Thursday after a federal magistrate judge set bail at $100,000 in property or $10,000 in cash. Guillermo Fuentes remained in jail awaiting a bail hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

Postings on the restaurants' Facebook pages Wednesday said the businesses will be closed temporarily.

The felony charge against the brothers -- conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens -- is punishable by as much as 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

The second charge, engaging in a practice of hiring unauthorized aliens, is punishable by as much as six months in prison or a fine of up to $3,000 for each unauthorized immigrant.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on the raid Wednesday; it is unclear whether any illegal immigrants were arrested.

Four illegal immigrants who were interviewed during the investigation were allowed to continue living and working in the U.S. while they cooperate with authorities; one of them was allowed to apply to become a legal resident, according to a complaint filed in court.

Magistrate Judge John Rich III said Hector Fuentes, a Mexican citizen, will have to surrender his passport. He is not allowed to leave Maine without prior approval from his probation officer and is barred from contacting his brother except about business matters, and then only through their lawyers.

Thomas Nale of Waterville is the attorney representing Hector Fuentes, while David Beneman, a federal public defender, was appointed to represent Guillermo Fuentes.

News of the restaurants' closings sparked an outcry from their patrons, who posted comments on the restaurants' Facebook pages Thursday.

Fans of the Fajita Grill lamented the loss of the food, service and low prices, while regulars of the Cancun in Waterville offered support for Hector Fuentes, who was described as a hardworking and generous man.

Hector Fuentes made contributions to the campaign of former Waterville mayor and now Gov. Paul LePage, including a $750 personal donation. As a business, Cancun donated $200 to LePage's campaign to win the Republican primary in June 2010 and then $550 for the general election in November.

On the day of the primary, LePage watched the results come in and celebrated his victory at Cancun in Waterville.

Nale said after the bail hearing Thursday that he did not know about Hector Fuentes's plans for his business, though messages posted on the pages said the restaurants will reopen soon.

"He wants to concentrate right now on the more important issues in front of him," Nale said.

Beneman declined to comment on the case.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: lbridgers@pressherald.com

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: akim@pressherald.com

 

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