Cancun charged with hiring illegal immigrants
Cancun, a Mexican restaurant on Silver Street that is known for its variety of delicious margaritas, is a favorite of both students from the Hill and Waterville residents alike. Both parties were shocked to find that the restaurant was closed for two days this September, following an investigation of a claim that it was harboring illegal aliens.
On Wednesday, Sept. 21, the owner of Cancun, Hector Fuentes, 37, of Waterville was charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and with engaging in a pattern or practice of hiring unauthorized aliens. Fuentes’ brother, Guillermo, 35, was arrested and charged with the same crimes.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement of Homeland Security Investigations division of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Labor is conducting the investigation.
According to the Morning Sentinel, a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, District of Maine, dated Tuesday, says that between 2006 and 2009 in Maine and elsewhere, the Fuentes brothers knowingly and willfully conspired with one another and with other people to conceal, harbor and shield from detention aliens who entered and stayed in the U.S. in violation of the law.
Federal officials raided Cancun on the Wednesday prior to the arrests. The raid was carried out by dozens of armed agents and shut down Silver Street for several hours.
John Fortier, a State Farm Insurance agent with offices next to Cancun, said in an interview with the Morning Sentinel, “I thought it was an over-the-top display of authority. They were disrespectful, they were rude. It was not a violent individual they were going after. There was way too much testosterone.”
The charges were brought about after several of the alleged illegal aliens came forward and spoke with law enforcement officials. They claim to have arrived in Maine and temporarily lived rent-free in the basement of Fajita Grill in Westbrook, which is owned by Guillermo Fuentes.
Workers said that they slept on cardboard and blankets and used buckets of water to bathe, according to a complaint filed by Homeland Security. The Fuentes brothers are being charged with a Class C felony that carries a punishment of up to 10 years in prison or a fine up to $250,000, or both. Engaging in a pattern or practice of hiring unauthorized aliens for employment carries a punishment of up to six months in prison or a fine of up to $3,000 for each unauthorized immigrant.
Citizens of Waterville who know Hector are upset over the arrest and hope that everything will work out for him. “I have no knowledge of Hector having employed any illegal aliens ever,” Fortier said in the same [Morning Sentinel] interview. “He’s a very good neighbor, a good businessperson and he’s done a lot for downtown. I support Hector 100 percent, and a lot of people do.”
Cancun was recently honored as a nominee for the 2011 Downtown Business of the Year award, but it ultimately lost the title to Joseph’s Market. Hector Fuentes also made contributions to the campaign of former Waterville mayor and now Governor Paul LePage, including a $750 personal donation. Cancun donated $200 to the campaign to win the Republican primary in June 2010 and $550 for the general election in November. Despite the allegations against the owner, Cancun has for now re-opened its doors, which were covered with notes from supporters during the days of Cancun’s closing, who hoped that the owner and other employees would be able to make it through this setback.