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Feds arrest Chuy’s Broiler owners in immigration, tax bust

Father and son owners of the Arizona-based Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler restaurant chain and the company’s accountant were arraigned Thursday in federal court in Tucson, Ariz., on charges of immigration and tax violations.

The 19-count federal indictment alleges Mark Evenson of Paradise Valley, Ariz., and his son, Christopher Evenson of Oro Valley, Ariz., both owners of Chuy's restaurants in Arizona and California, and Diane Strehlow of Tempe, Ariz., an accountant for the chain, were involved in the unlawful hiring and harboring of illegal aliens.

The indictment also claimed they conspired to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and evade taxes.

The charges came after a lengthy probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and the Internal Revenue Service. The federal investigation differed from the raids and arrests in March at units of Pei Wei Asian Diner and corporate parent P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, which were conducted by country sheriff’s deputies investigating identification thefts.

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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.

U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke said in a statement: “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.

“That deceitful practice, which hurts all law-abiding tax payers and employers, must stop,” he continued. “There should be no place in our economy for employers who cynically exploit and defy the U.S. tax code to take advantage of illegal labor.”

Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE investigations in Arizona, was quoted in the same statement as saying: “This case should be a reminder about the consequences facing employers who exploit illegal alien labor and violate our nation's laws. No employer, regardless of size, industry, or location is above the law.”

The indictment alleges the Evensons hired undocumented aliens to work in the kitchens of their restaurants. It says the defendants used two different methods to compensate company employees: “Undocumented workers were purportedly paid under the table with no taxes withheld or reported to the IRS. The authorized workers were paid using normal payroll practices, with taxes properly itemized and submitted to the IRS.”

The three were arrested Wednesday after ICE, the IRS and Labor Department agents executed 20 search warrants related to the case, including 15 at Chuy's restaurants in Arizona and California.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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