Conn. operator faces prison for illegal hires as feds step up scrutiny

NEW HAVEN Conn. Restaurant owner Andrew Adames, who earlier this week pleaded guilty to a federal charge of knowingly employing illegal aliens, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced Sept. 18, the U.S. attorney's office said.

In addition, Adames, of Oxford, Conn., who owns four Señor Pancho’s restaurants, has agreed to forfeit $150,000 to the government.

Adames’ plea on Tuesday came a day before the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced “a bold, new audit initiative” and issued Notices of Inspection to 652 businesses nationwide. The agency said those notices, which is more than the enforcement group issued throughout all of 2008, “illustrates ICE's increased focus on holding employers accountable for their hiring practices and efforts to ensure a legal workforce.”

ICE said the notices alert business owners that the agency will be inspecting their hiring records to determine whether they are complying with employment eligibility verification laws and regulations, including those tied to I-9 forms.

Such declarations and actions by federal officials have not gone unnoticed by Diane Polan, a New Haven attorney representing restaurateur Adames.

“The U.S. government is trying to fix our broken immigration system on the backs of restaurant owners like Andy Adames,” Polan was quoted as saying by the Valley Independent Sentinel newspaper of Ansonia, Conn. “He, like virtually every other restaurant owner in this state — Mexican restaurant or not — is employing undocumented people. The government has decided to make an example of him."

Polan could not be reached at press time for additional comment about the case.

Acting U.S. Attorney Nora R. Dannehy said in a statement that Adames, 43, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful employment of aliens before senior U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey in New Haven. That statement said documents filed with the court indicate that between January 2008 and January 2009, Adames employed at least 10 individuals at his restaurants “knowing they were in the country unlawfully and were not authorized to work.”

Adames’ Señor Pancho’s restaurants are located in the Connecticut cities of Monroe, Southbury, Prospect and Litchfield.

The attorney’s office said the case was investigated by ICE and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected] [3].