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Friday, September 27, 2013 12:35 PM

Former El Mezcal manager charged by feds

By The Herald Staff

The manager of the former El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant in Ottawa has been charged with nine counts related to the harboring and employment of illegal immigrants in a federal indictment handed down Wednesday by U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom’s office in Kansas City, Kan. 

Alex Sanchez Jr., 33, manager of El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant, 402 S. Main St., has been charged with four counts of harboring undocumented aliens for financial gain and five counts of encouraging undocumented aliens to reside in the United States for financial gain, according to the indictment. Employees worked at El Mezcal and other restaurants affiliated with Tequila, Inc., the owner of the building, and other restaurants affiliated with the defendant or Tequila, Inc., the indictment said.

An investigation started in June 2011 when the Department of Homeland Security received information El Mezcal was not completing I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification forms and a notice of inspection was served to Sanchez, the indictment said. 

Sanchez received a final order in November 2011 requiring him to cease employing undocumented aliens and pay a fine related to the violations, according to the indictment. 

Sanchez continued to employ illegal immigrants, paying them in cash and providing housing to them, knowing they were not lawfully present in the United States, the indictment said. From September 2011 to June 2013, Sanchez continued to employ undocumented workers and provide housing, as well as not maintain proper employment records of the workers, according to the indictment. 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, with assistance from other local and regional agencies, shut down the restaurant June 14 as part of the criminal investigation.

The investigation still is ongoing, Jim Cross, public information officer for U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, said Friday. He would not speculate if other people might face charges in connection with the case.

“I’d characterize it as an ongoing investigation,” Cross said. 

El Mezcal remains closed and its future is uncertain as the property might or might not be seized in the investigation, Cross said. 

If convicted, Sanchez faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000 on each count, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

For more on this story, see The Herald's Weekender edition.

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