[AML-CFT] El Pollo owners indicted on federal money laundering charges
- A federal grand jury has indicted the owners of the El Pollo Rico Restaurant in Wheaton on charges of money laundering and harboring illegal immigrants to work in their restaurant while they accumulated nearly $8 million in cash, real estate and other property.
‘‘These employers are alleged to have lined their pockets with millions of dollars and gained an unfair advantage over their competitors by systematically exploiting illegal aliens and paying them under the table,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said Monday.
The case is one of the biggest in terms of proceeds seized in a raid in a money-laundering case, said James A. Dinkens, special agent in charge of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Baltimore office.
Federal authorities said they found $3 million in cash in the Germantown home of one of the owners and are seeking the forfeiture of eight properties, including homes throughout the county where the restaurant owners are alleged to have housed the illegal immigrants working for them.
‘‘The theory is if you make your money from illegal activities, all of those proceeds are considered tainted funds,” Rosenstein said.
Francisco C. Solano, 55; his wife, Ines Hoyos-Solano, 59, both of Germantown; his sister, Consuelo Solano, 69, of Arlington, Va.; and brother Juan Faustino Solano, 57, of Kensington, were charged with money laundering, conspiracy, illegal avoidance of currency reporting requirements and employment of unauthorized immigrants, according to the indictment.
Francisco Solano declined to comment and referred all questions to the family to his Kensington attorney Gustavo Matheus, who did not return calls before The Gazette’s deadline.
The family owned the popular Peruvian restaurant El Pollo Rico before it was closed by the raid.
The Solanos wanted to hire illegal immigrants so they could pay them a lower wage, giving them an advantage over competitors who paid legal wages to their workers, Rosenstein said.
The indictment alleges that the Solanos hired immigrants from Mexico in 1999 and one from Guatemala in 2006 and housed them at houses they owned.
‘‘No. 1, for honest employers, they should know that the government will not allow dishonest employers to take advantage of [honest employers] without complying with the law and, No. 2, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is very active in pursuing this so there are consequences to hiring” illegal immigrants, Rosenstein said.
The investigation began because of ‘‘curious” money transactions by the restaurant owners, Dinkens said.
The Solanos structured deposits into the restaurant’s Chevy Chase Bank business account to be less than $10,000 to avoid triggering the bank’s legal reporting requirements, according to the indictment. For example, on one morning, Francisco Solano deposited of $5,000 at 9:55 a.m. and $8,000 at 10:19 a.m.
From 2002 to September 2006, Francisco Solano deposited more than $7.2 million into the business account, the indictment said.
‘‘This case goes beyond immigration violations,” Dinkens said. ‘‘The alleged money laundering and Bank Secrecy Act violations represent a serious attempt to undermine and exploit the U.S. financial system, whose integrity is vital to all of us.”
While the July raid drew concern from the immigrant community that it signaled a crackdown on illegal immigrants, Dinkens said his office was after the employers for hiring illegal immigrants and for money laundering.
‘‘Those are the types of cases that we’re focusing our resources on,” he said.
While one group has accused the county government of assisting illegal immigrants by operating three day laborer centers, Dinkens said the accusation is an unfair characterization.
‘‘I don’t think all day laborers are here illegally,” he said. ‘‘People who are down on their luck or who just might want to operate that way can use that center. You just can’t draw a conclusion that because someone is a day laborer that he’s an illegal alien. It’s a very broad brush to paint.”
Posted By Inonu Akgun ALP to AML-CFT at 8/01/2007 06:06:00 AM