Federal charges filed against restaurant owner, managers in multi-state RICO case

The owner of dozens of Mexican restaurants in several states, along with the company’s president, chief financial officer, controller and sales manager, were among 19 defendants charged in a federal racketeering case to hire undocumented workers.

The case was filed in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri. Eight current or former managers also were charged in the case, including one in Overland Park, Kansas. There were 64 counts listed in the indictment. No individuals at Wyandotte County restaurants were named as defendants.

Homeland Security Investigations agents, with the assistance of numerous local, states, and federal agencies, executed a series of search warrants today at 10 locations in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Federal agents have so far arrested 14 of the 19 defendants.

The federal indictment alleges that 17 of the 19 co-defendants were part of an organized criminal enterprise from July 2003 to Aug. 10, 2021, that smuggled Mexican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadoran nationals who were not authorized to live or work in the United States. Conspirators allegedly harbored them in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Charges were brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Jose Luis Bravo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Claremore, Oklahoma, was alleged to have, with other persons, created a network of restaurants operating as LLCs in states in the Midwest. According to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Missouri, they allegedly did not pay the appropriate state and federal payroll taxes, did not pay overtime and worker’s compensation for unauthorized employees.

Bravo, identified in the indictment as the leader of the enterprise, is the owner of Specialty Food Distribution in Joplin, Missouri. Bravo is also the owner of a group of restaurants registered as Bravos Group, LLC, including El Charro, El Charrito, Playa Azul, Itza, LLC, Cantina Bravo, and El Chango. Specialty Food Distribution is a wholesale distributor of food, supplies, and equipment to restaurants throughout the Midwest.

The federal indictment named a person who until recently was the manager of Bravos Mexican Grill in Overland Park, Kansas.

According to the federal indictment, the investigation began when the Kansas Department of Labor contacted Homeland Security Investigations regarding allegations that unauthorized aliens were employed at the Bravos Mexican Grill in Overland Park.

When HSI announced a Form I-9 inspection on July 16, 2018, agents discovered that 14 of the 17 Bravos employees whose I-9 forms had been inspected were ineligible to work, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. During another inspection of Bravos on Feb. 28, 2019, agents identified eight unauthorized aliens working there. Five of those employees had been identified previously as ineligible to work.

The indictment also contains forfeiture allegations against several defendants, which would require them to forfeit to the government the funds contained in several bank accounts as well as real estate located in Great Bend, Pittsburg, and Augusta in Kansas; Butler, Joplin, and West Plains in Missouri; and Claremore, Okmulgee, Muskogee, Enid, and Tahlequah in Oklahoma.

Kansas Supreme Court issues stay of lower court’s rejection of emergency management law

Attorney general seeks pause after judge ruled statute unconstitutional

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — The chief of the Kansas Supreme Court issued a stay Tuesday of a district court ruling that declared unconstitutional portions of an emergency management law adopted to recalibrate government authority during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Justice Marla Luckert released the one-page order in response to a request from Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who planned to appeal the July 15 ruling by a Johnson County District Court judge that Senate Bill 40 was unenforceable. The law was approved this year by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

District Court Judge David Hauber had rejected Schmidt’s request to suspend the district court action. The attorney general’s plea suggested to do otherwise would create “legal anarchy.” The judge, however, said the attorney general raised “fantastical” arguments.

Hauber waded into the controversy after parents in the Shawnee Mission School District filed a lawsuit in opposition to a policy requiring students to wear a face covering as a shield against COVID-19.

The judge found the new version of the Kansas Emergency Management Act conflicted with principles of separation of power among branches of government. In part, the statute moved authority to issue or extend disaster declarations from the governor to a council of state legislators.

Issues raised by the lawsuit and the judge’s decision have taken on new relevance as the delta variant of COVID-19 spread throughout communities in Kansas at the same time K-12 classes resumed.

In the original lawsuit, parents Scott Bozarth and Kristin Butler asserted implementation of a mask mandate could cause “psychological harm.”

Kansas Reflector stories, www.kansasreflector.com, may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
See more at https://kansasreflector.com/2021/08/24/kansas-supreme-court-issues-stay-of-lower-courts-rejection-of-emergency-management-law/

Two Olathe men guilty of bank robbery

Two Olathe, Kansas, men are facing prison sentences after taking part in a pair of bank robberies.

A federal jury in Kansas City, Kansas, convicted Michael Shiferaw, 22, of Olathe of two counts of armed bank robbery, and two counts of discharging a firearm in connection with a bank robbery.

Kenya Breakfield, 23, of Olathe pleaded guilty to one count of armed bank robbery and one count of discharging a firearm in connection with a bank robbery.

According to court documents, in October 2018, Shiferaw and Breakfield went into a Wells Fargo bank in Leawood, Kansas, wearing face masks and carrying handguns.

Shiferaw fired a shot into the ceiling upon entering. He then pointed a gun at the tellers and forced them to fill a duffel bag with money. The men fired another round into the ceiling, yelling “happy holidays” before fleeing the bank with the money.

In March 2019, the men robbed the Commerce Bank in Roeland Park, Kansas. This time Breakfield remained in the vehicle as the getaway driver, and Shiferaw entered the bank alone.

Shiferaw fired four rounds during the robbery, including one aimed at a customer trying to enter the bank.

The defendants were arrested shortly after the second robbery, and law enforcement recovered the firearm used in both crimes. Prosecutors agreed to drop the charges against Breakfield in connection with the Commerce Bank robbery in exchange for his guilty plea in the Wells Fargo case. Shiferaw elected to go to trial.

A bank robbery conviction carries a maximum of 25 years in prison for each count. A conviction of discharging a firearm during a bank robbery carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, consecutive with any other sentence.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Olathe Police Department, Leawood Police Department, Roeland Park Police Department, and the U.S. Marshals Service investigated the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Flannigan prosecuted the case.