Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Restaurateur Sentenced On Illegal-Immigrant Charges (Toledo, Ohio - June 29, 2010)

Norwalk man owned Mexican eatery in Oregon

Ramon J. Ornelas had succeeded in life in the United States by creating a string of Mexican restaurants in northern Ohio and availing himself of the opportunities of his new country, a federal court judge said yesterday.

But his employment of dozens of illegal immigrants and his failure to pay taxes on their incomes required a prison term to serve as both punishment and a deterrent.

Ornelas, 43, of Norwalk, Ohio, was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Toledo to one year and one day in prison. He pleaded guilty in February to eight counts of harboring and concealing illegal aliens, three counts of mail fraud, and seven counts of subscribing to a false tax return.

Judge Jack Zouhary sentenced him to one year for each count but ordered that they be served concurrently.

Immigration officials said Ornelas, who had legal permanent resident status, will face a deportation judge after he serves his sentence.

"You pulled yourself up here in America, the land of opportunity, and opened a chain of restaurants. I take that into consideration," Judge Zouhary said. "There is a seriousness to this crime. The government has taken a position on illegal immigration … and my sentence must promote respect for the law."

Federal charges were filed against Ornelas in January. Authorities said search warrants were executed at eight of Ornelas' restaurants in Ohio, which resulted in 58 undocumented Mexican nationals being taken into custody. Ornelas is the principal owner of Casa Fiesta Mexican restaurants in Oregon, Sandusky, Youngstown, Vermilion, Ashland, Norwalk, Fremont, and Oberlin.

In addition to the concealing charges, Ornelas pleaded guilty to filing false federal tax records for not claiming the undocumented workers and therefore underreporting the taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney David Bauer, the amount owed the federal government was $178,000 over a period of three years.

The mail fraud convictions were the result of filing false Ohio Contribution Reports by underpaying $11,124 in taxes due the state for unemployment insurance for those workers he did not report.

Mr. Bauer noted that Ornelas benefited economically from the hiring of undocumented workers and asked the judge to send a message to employers that immigration laws exist and will be enforced.

As part of his sentence, the judge also ordered the forfeiture of $62,546 taken from eight of his restaurants during execution of the July, 2008, search warrant and a Vermilion home he owned where several undocumented workers lived...

[Full Article]