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Maine Restaurant Owners Found Guilty of Harboring Illegal Workers
03/18/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

The owners of three Mexican restaurants in Maine have been found guilty on federal charges of harboring illegal aliens. Federal authorities raided the popular restaurants in Waterville, Biddeford and Westbrook in September 2011 after a three-year investigation. Patty Wight has more on the case.

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In order to decide whether the two brothers who owned the restaurants - Hector and Guillermo Fuentes - were guilty, the jury first had to answer the basic question of what it means to harbor an illegal alien. The prosecution and defense each put slightly different emphasis on certain aspects of the definition.

In closing arguments, the prosecution argued that harboring an alien means to provide a secure haven or refuge. But defense attorney Ed Wade says there is another criterion. "With the purpose that they would avoid detection by law enforcement - it has to be for the purpose of avoiding detection," he says.

The defense had argued that the Fuentes brothers did nothing to hide their employees. First, their Mexican employees clearly stood out among Maine's largely caucasian population. They say the workers lived freely, and that the Fuentes brothers even helped them find housing within the community.

But U.S. Assistant Attorney Jim Chapman said the facts proved otherwise. "We had evidence that false documents were created to help them hide their illegal status," Chapman says. "We had evidence that they created false payrolls in order to hide the illegitimacy of their workers."

And prosecutors also had testimony of former employees who were undocumented. The defense questioned the validity of that testimony, saying those witnesses had every motivation to support their own self-interests in the hopes that they may be able to remain in the country legally.

Hector Fuentes' defense attorney Lenny Sharon says they've already been granted immunity for helping the prosecution's case. "And in exchange they allowed them to stay in the country, they got the documentation they could stay in the country, and now they're running my client's business."

Prosecutors say, however, that the legal status is temporary. The jury found both Fuentes brothers guilty of all charges. U.S. Assistant Attorney Julia Lipez says she's pleased with the verdict.

"This case was the result of a long investigation conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor, and we believe that it's important to show employers that they can't harbor undocumented aliens," Lipez says.

Hector and Guillermo Fuentes face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.

Editor's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, defense attorney Lenny Sharon is the husband of MPBN's Deputy News Director Susan Sharon.

 

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