Chuy's restaurant owners suspected of illegal hiring, tax evasion - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Chuy's restaurant owners suspected of illegal hiring, tax evasion

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Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 1:38 pm

A Tempe woman and the owners many restaurants in a popular chain with outlets in Arizona and California have been indicted on suspicion of hiring illegal immigrants and tax evasion.

Federal agents raided 15 Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler restaurants on Wednesday in both states and served 20 search warrants.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Vincent Picard says they detained about 40 suspected illegal immigrants who were working at the restaurants. Chuy’s has six restaurants throughout the Valley including two in Tempe, one in Mesa and one in Chandler.

Mark Evenson of Paradise Valley and his son, Christopher Evenson, 39, of Oro Valley near Tucson, co-own 20 restaurants. They and Diane Strehlow, 47, of Tempe, a company accountant, were arrested on a 19-count indictment that includes charges of unlawful hiring and harboring of illegal aliens, conspiracy to defraud the IRS and tax evasion.

The three are accused of hiring illegal immigrants for the company’s kitchen operations and paying them under the table. When Mark Evenson received a complaint about illegal immigrants working at one of his restaurants in Lake Havasu City, he allegedly told an employee that “throwing some American people in there” might stop the complaints, according to information from ICE.

The indictment states that sometime before January 2008, the Evensons and Strehlow began filing fraudulent tax forms with the IRS and did so every three months until January 2010.

In what Picard described as a “complex criminal investigation into a conspiracy,” the restaurant underreported and failed to pay at least $400,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes throughout the course of the crimes, according to ICE.

Through a public relations firm, the restaurant chain issued a statement Wednesday distancing itself from the accused. “Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler Restaurants are owned by a number of individuals, not just Mark and Chris Evenson. While we are deeply disturbed by the alleged actions, they do not represent the values and ideals of the Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler Restaurants, the other independent owners or our employees.”

The Evensons and Strehlow are scheduled to make initial appearances Friday in U.S. District Court in Tucson, according to information from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case.

If convicted of all charges, Mark Evenson faces up to 86 years in prison and a $5.33 million fine and Christopher Evenson faces up to 81 years in prison and a $5.08 million fine.

Strehlow faces a maximum prison term of 40 years and a $2 million fine.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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