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.