The New York Times has a report by Julia Preston on the Obama Administration's decision to target employers of undocumented workers for criminal prosecution.
Preston's report shows what could have happened (and may still happen) to Sholom Rubashkin. Rubashkin kept two sets of books, just like Chuy's Mesquite Broiler did, and exploited undocumented workers in some of the same ways.
Now Chuy's owners are facing potential 80-year prison sentences for their alleged crimes:
…Among the employers who have felt the impact of the administration’s tactics are two owners of Mexican restaurants in the Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler chain, which are popular for their laid-back Margaritaville mood and their broiled mahi tacos. On April 20, immigration agents descended on 14 Chuy’s restaurants in coordinated raids in Arizona and California, detaining kitchen workers and carrying away boxes of payroll books and other evidence.
But at the arraignment days later in federal court here…the only criminal defendants were the owners, Mark Evenson and his son Christopher, and an accountant who worked with them, Diane Ingrid Strehlow. If the Evensons are convicted on all charges against them of tax fraud and harboring illegal workers, they each could face more than 80 years in jail.…
Department of Homeland Security officials, speaking anonymously in order to discuss internal policy, said immigration officers were no longer authorized to carry out workplace raids unless they cooperated with federal prosecutors to prepare criminal cases against the employers. Last year, 119 employers were convicted.…
Dennis K. Burke, the United States attorney for Arizona, who led the Chuy’s prosecutions, called them a “game changer” for the state. During a lengthy inquiry, investigators, including undercover operatives, discovered that the Evensons were keeping two sets of books: one for waiters and cashiers, Mr. Burke said, and another for Mexican kitchen workers.
According to the indictment, a customer complained to Mark Evenson that he was employing illegal immigrants. “I need to hide you in the kitchen,” Mr. Evenson is said to have told one Hispanic employee he knew to be undocumented.
Mr. Burke said prosecutors saw that they could accuse the Evensons under the severe penalties of the tax code — “the hammer,” as he put it. Charged with evading more than $400,000 in taxes on wages for some 360 unauthorized immigrant workers, the Evensons together face more than $10 million in fines if convicted on all counts. They have pleaded not guilty, and their lawyers declined to comment, saying they awaited evidence from prosecutors.
Unusually, even immigration lawyers who represented Chuy’s workers spoke favorably of the federal handling of the case.
“ICE was nice,” said Delia Salvatierra, a lawyer in Phoenix who represents two workers who were in the process of gaining legal status when they were detained. “It was as benign as it can get,” she said. Officers released the two workers so they could pursue their cases in immigration court.
The two of them, who are brothers, said they came to the United States from Mexico in the 1990s. Both had worked most of the time since in Chuy’s restaurants. The eldest, Alejandro Díaz Ojeda, 36, learned to cook the Chuy’s menu. Then he taught his brother, Javier, who is 30.
The brothers said they had been treated well. “I became very fond of the company,” Javier said.
Their experience, however, suggests how the Evensons kept their menu prices famously low. The brothers said they were paid an hourly wage — Javier made $9.50 after 14 years — by payroll check for the first 40 hours a week. Any overtime was paid with a different check, with no taxes deducted and no higher rate, they said. Both brothers said they often worked 70 hours a week.…
[Hat Tip: AEA.]