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.

Why Kansas Democrats tell Republicans to ‘keep it transparent’ as they draw new political maps

by Abigail Censky and Daniel Wheaton, KCUR and Kansas News Service

Republicans will control the redistricting process in Kansas next year. Right now, they face an uphill battle to convince residents in the suburbs of Kansas City that they won’t gerrymander the maps to supercharge Republican power.

Overland Park, Kansas — Without a single new boundary line drawn for the congressional and legislative districts, Republicans running redistricting in Kansas find themselves under fire.

Democrats argue that 14 town halls scattered across the state came with too little advance notice — 10 days — while people who crammed into one of those meetings in Johnson County worried that the fix is in.

“It’s almost as if there was a plan to cheat,” said Stacey Knoell, an Olathe resident.

One of the most critical choices with the once-a-decade redrawing of political maps revolves around the state’s 3rd Congressional District in the Kansas City area. For the last quarter century, it’s toggled between Republican and Democrat. In 2018, Democrat Sharice Davids won the congressional seat.

Republicans want that seat back. By drawing the new congressional districts in a way that puts parts of Johnson or Wyandotte counties in other districts, for instance, they could make her re-election nearly impossible. And because they hold a firm grip on the Legislature, Republicans control redistricting.

On Thursday, Knoell and hundreds of other people crowded into an Overland Park community center to weigh in with state lawmakers after Democrats raised alarm bells that Republicans were attempting to freeze citizens out of the process.

The audience tilted heavily Democratic and pressed for a collective wish list. They demanded maps that grouped districts by communities, not something gerrymandered to consolidate power for one political party. They wanted Wyandotte and Johnson counties kept together in a way that kept Davids’ district essentially intact.

“Within the district’s boundaries lies the heart of the Kansas side of the KC metropolitan area,” said Ron Fugate. He wants the Kansas 3rd to remain in a single district and urged lawmakers to “keep it transparent.”

State Rep. Chris Croft, a Republican from Overland Park, chairs the Kansas House redistricting committee. He said that information is what lawmakers came to hear, said “but how realistic that is really depends upon the numbers.”

New numbers from the 2020 Census show a decline in rural populations across the state and an increase in the state’s population centers fueled by migration to the Kansas City metro area. Douglas, Leavenworth, Johnson and Wyandotte counties are all within the top five counties with the greatest population growth.

Kansas’ four congressional districts will need to have roughly 734,470 people each.

Since 2010, Johnson County and Wyandotte County have grown by more than 77,000 people, putting the counties central to the 3rd District roughly 44,000 people over the threshold. Wyandotte County votes heavily Democratic. Johnson County is more Republican, but it has a larger share of Democrats than most of Kansas. Both counties cannot remain entirely whole to meet redistricting requirements.

A change in how members of the military and college students are counted will also mean changes for state legislative districts. Populations in Douglas and Riley counties, home to two state universities and an Army base, increased because college students were counted in Lawrence and Manhattan rather than in their hometowns.

Kansas is one of 29 states across the country where the Legislature wields nearly total control over the redistricting process. Next year, when maps are redrawn to make the number of people in each district equal, Republicans will have an outsize influence on the process thanks to their fortified supermajority.

But they face an uphill battle to convince residents in the Kansas City area that they won’t gerrymander congressional or state legislative districts to supercharge Republican power in the state.

At the meetings in Kansas City, Kansas, and Overland Park any condemnation of former Senate President Susan Wagle’s pledge that “we can draw four Republican maps” sparked applause from the crowd. Sen. Rick Wilborn, A Republican from McPherson and chairman of the redistricting committee, said that Wagle is not driving the redistricting process.

“It’s unfortunate that statement was made,” he said. “But that’s all I have to say about it. I didn’t make the statement. No one on that committee made that statement.”

Wilborn and Croft previously drew the ire of Democrats by scheduling many of the meetings during the work day and all in a single week. Democrats say that limits participation to the mostly white retiree and middle-aged group that attended the Overland Park meeting. In 2011, the meetings were spread out over the course of four months.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, another Overland Park Democrat, said her concerns about accessibility materialized in places like Garden City and Dodge City.

“You have a lot of working people, a lot of shift workers, who were not able to take advantage of that,” she said. “So that is not just an issue here in the Kansas City area, but also all over Kansas.”

House Speaker Ron Ryckman has said that additional virtual town halls may be held in the fall, but he has not yet provided any additional details.

Democrats like Clayton want more town hall meetings to be held after people have had time to review the census data that came out on Thursday — at least two meetings in the five most populous counties in the state.

“We need to have these meetings where people actually live,” Clayton said, “because cows don’t vote, people do. And we’ve got plenty of people here, especially in the Kansas City area.”

Abigail Censky is the political reporter for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @AbigailCensky or email her at abigailcensky (at) kcur (dot) org.
TheKansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
See more at https://www.kcur.org/news/2021-08-13/wary-kansas-democrats-tell-republicans-to-keep-it-transparent-as-they-draw-new-political-map

Convicted killer of three at Jewish Community Center dies in prison

The convicted killer of three people at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park has died in prison, according to a statement from the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., who was convicted of the murder of three people at the Jewish Community Center, died on Monday, May 3, at the El Dorado Correctional Facility, according to a statement from KDOC.

He was serving a sentence for capital murder, attempted murder and firearms convictions.

Frazier Glenn Cross Jr. was an alias for Frazier Glenn Miller Jr.

Miller, an anti-Semite, shot and killed three persons in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center on April 13, 2014, including a 14-year-old boy, Reat Underwood; his grandfather, William Corporon; and a woman visiting her mother at an assisted living center, Teresa LaManno. None of the persons he killed was Jewish.

Miller reportedly shouted “Heil Hitler” while in the back seat of a police car at the Jewish Community Center, following the shooting.

A preliminary assessment indicated that the cause of Miller’s death Monday was from natural causes, according to KDOC. The cause of death is pending an autopsy.

Miller was appealing his death sentence in a case heard before the Kansas Supreme Court on March 29 and 30. The decision was pending. Miller had represented himself at the district court trial.

According to information online from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Miller was the founder and former leader of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, paramilitary organizations in the 1980s. He was a member of a neo-Nazi group in North Carolina. The group attacked and killed Communist marchers in Greensboro, North Carolina.

He later turned up in Missouri after serving a prison term. In 1987, he was in the Springfield, Missouri, area. He went to prison for another three years on a weapons charge, and as part of a plea deal he testified against other white supremacists, according to SPLC information.

He later ran for Congress in Missouri in 2006. He ran for the Senate in Missouri in 2010. While running for office he made anti-Semitic statements, according to the SPLC website.