When I first heard that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service were raiding 15 Chuy's restaurants in Arizona and California, my first thought was that this operation sounded suspiciously like a Sheriff Joe Arpaio-style raid against Pei Wei, Sizzler, McDonalds, et al.
In fact, I'm stone-cold certain that Arpaio will use these ICE/IRS raids to defend his picayune harassment of local businesses.
ICE spokesman Vinnie Picard has issued a press release detailing the arrests of the two owners of the regional chain, Mark Evenson and his son Christopher Evenson, as well as their accountant Diane Strehlow. All three are Arizonans. You can read the full release below.
The 19-count indictment is the result of what ICE calls "a lengthy probe" by ICE, IRS, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Picard informed me that there were also 40 "administrative arrests" in Arizona and California of Chuy's workers suspected of being undocumented.
He stated that the administrative arrests were "secondary in this operation," and that ICE had no plans to seek out other workers at their homes, after the fashion of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.
Still, that "administrative arrest" phrase is eerily reminiscent of the military term "collateral damage."
I asked Picard what was different about this ICE raid versus an Arpaio raid on a local business, other than the scale.
He responded that this was a "criminal conspiracy investigation involving the owners."
In other words, it wasn't done specifically to arrest illegal immigrants, according to Picard. But those undocumented workers who happened to be present were taken into custody.
These raids come hard on the heels of President Barack Obama's recent immigration summit, where he promised to push for immigration reform and noted that the administration was prioritizing "criminal" aliens.
Indeed, this is simply a continuation of the administration's two-step on immigration reform. Carrot and stick. Obama needs Hispanics to vote for him in 2012, despite the administration having done zip on immigration reform, and despite Obama's broken promises to the Latino community. Thus, the summit.
Yet the raids, the "stick," if you will, bolster his right flank against nativist right-wingers critical of the summit.
Picard denied any such coordination with Obama's summit, noting that the investigation began in 2009 and that it takes an enormous amount of preparation to secure indictments and execute search warrants in this manner.
However, that sort of political coordination is way above Picard's pay grade. The Obama administration is obviously sending a message: They will remain "tough" on enforcement while giving repeated lip service to the notion of immigration reform.
Civil rights leader Sal Reza of the Puente Movement condemned the raids, wondering why the IRS and ICE were cooperating.
"Why is ICE taking part in an IRS related matter?" he asked. "It's double-speak. If it's an IRS matter, deal with it as an IRS matter."
Reza later released a statement accusing the Obama administration of "conflating tax matters with immigration enforcement" and calling it a "deeply disturbing development."
"Will this empower Sheriff Arpaio to pull over those late on their taxes now as well?" Reza asks in the release. "Those genuinely concerned with the finances and fraud would take action regarding the nearly $100 million funds misspent by the Sheriff's office."
He added that,
"Instead of intervening in the human rights crisis of Arizona, the federal government is aiding in sending us into a further state of emergency and punishing innocent working people. The federal action we need is intervention in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office not this type of grand-standing."
I might not have a problem with a raid like this if the feds were just going after the big fish, but with 40 minnows in its net, I can't countenance it.
Moreover, Reza makes a very good point about the feds' lack of action on the Arpaio front. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have been investigating the sheriff's office for years, and the DOJ impaneled a federal grand jury over a year ago.
So far, not a peep regarding possible criminal indictments.
Would you trade those 40 minnows for a shark like Arpaio? really, I think that's a no-brainer.
The following is ICE's release on todays raids:
3 restaurant chain executives indicted on federal immigration, tax charges
Joint ICE, IRS probe alleges Chuy's hired illegal alien workers and paid them 'off the books'
Mark Evenson, 58, of Paradise Valley, Ariz.; his son, Christopher Evenson, 39, of Oro Valley, Ariz., owners of Chuy's Mesquite Broiler restaurants with outlets in Arizona and California; and an accountant for the chain, Diane Strehlow, 47, of Temple, Ariz., are charged with a variety of criminal violations, including the unlawful hiring and harboring of illegal aliens, conspiracy to defraud the IRS and tax evasion. If convicted of all the charges, Mark Evenson faces up to 86 years in prison and a $5.33 million fine; Christopher Evenson faces up to 81 years in prison and a $5.08 million fine; and, Strehlow faces a maximum prison term of 40 years and a $2 million fine.
"For nearly two years, these defendants are alleged to have knowingly dodged hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes in order to maintain an illegal workforce," said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. "That deceitful practice, which hurts all law-abiding tax payers and employers, must stop. There should be no place in our economy for employers who cynically exploit and defy the
"Employers who knowingly hire an illegal workforce encourage illegal immigration, take jobs away from legal workers and gain an unfair advantage over their competitors," said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in
According to the indictment, the Evensons hired undocumented aliens to work in the kitchens of their restaurants; while individuals authorized to work in the
"Employment tax evasion undermines public confidence in our tax system and businesses that don't follow the rules have an unfair advantage over their competitors. Tax evasion is not a victimless crime and results in the loss of future Social Security or Medicare benefits for the employees and loss of tax revenue to the
The Evensons and Strehlow were arrested Wednesday after HSI, IRS and Department of Labor agents executed 20 search warrants related to the case, including 15 at Chuy's restaurants in
According to the court document, the Evensons engaged in a pattern and practice of hiring aliens knowing they were not authorized for employment in the
The indictment states that, sometime prior to January 2008, the defendants began filing fraudulent Forms 941 (the Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return) with the IRS, and did so every three months through January 2010. Consequently, the restaurant's management companies underreported and failed to pay at least $400,000 in Federal Insurance Contribution Act (Social Security and Medicare) taxes throughout the course of the conspiracy.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office District of Arizona.
Since its establishment in 2003, ICE has dramatically enhanced its efforts to combat the unlawful employment of unauthorized workers in this country. ICE's comprehensive strategy for worksite enforcement is aimed at promoting national security and public safety, protecting critical infrastructure, and ensuring fair labor standards.
In fiscal year 2010, worksite cases initiated by ICE Homeland Security Investigations resulted in the filing of criminal charges against a record 180 owners, employers, managers and/or supervisors - up from 135 in fiscal year 2008. Criminal prosecutions are just one of many tools the agency is using to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect job opportunities for the nation's lawful workforce. That enforcement strategy also includes expanded use of civil penalties, debarment and employer audits. In fiscal year 2010, ICE Homeland Security Investigations conducted more than 2,200 audits of employers nationwide.