WATERVILLE — Cancun Mexican Restaurant on Silver Street will remain open, despite the fact that one of its owners, Hector Fuentes, faces a prison term after pleading guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to knowingly hiring 10 or more undocumented immigrants over the course of a year and making false statements to federal agents.

The conviction also means the restaurant’s liquor license will face scrutiny from state and city officials who have the legal authority to consider an applicant’s criminal history when granting or renewing a liquor license.

Fuentes’ brother, Guillermo Fuentes, 38, also pleaded guilty to the charges in connection to his restaurant, Fajita Grill, in Westbrook.

Hector Fuentes, who was at Cancun Monday afternoon, referred questions about the case to his lawyer, Leonard Sharon, but commented briefly about the future of his eatery.

“The restaurant is staying open,” he said. “My family will be OK.”

Sharon, of Auburn, said Tuesday that Hector Fuentes will probably be sentenced in the fall. If the judge accepts the terms of the plea deal, Fuentes would serve between 27 and 33 months in prison, but where he would serve the term is uncertain. Sharon said the goal all along was to make sure Fuentes was not deported.

“We’re very glad that, notwithstanding everything that happened, that Hector will hopefully be able to stay in the United States and raise his family,” Sharon said.”We were very happy that we were able to work out a deal that would maximize the possibility of staying here.”

Guillermo Fuentes is represented by two lawyers from Cleveland, according to Sharon. The brothers will be sentenced after the completion of a pre-sentence investigation by the U.S. Probation Office, the U.S. attorney’s office said Monday in a press release.

The employment charge relates to hiring practices at the Fajita Grill, the release says. The false statement charge arises out of statements the Fuentes brothers made to law enforcement officials after their arrests in September 2011 about the hiring practices at the Fajita Grill and Cancun. They falsely stated, among other things, that federally required documentation regarding the immigration status of employees had been properly completed, according to the release.

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security investigations unit and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General.

It is uncertain whether the city and state will renew a liquor license for Fuentes’ Cancun Mexican Restaurant. State law says a liquor license may be denied for one or more reasons, including if the applicant has been convicted of a felony.

Laurence Sanborn, division manager of liquor license and enforcement in the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, said Tuesday that the agency considers licensing on a case-by-case basis. He said he would have to consult with an attorney on whether a liquor license would be issued to a convicted felon, but his initial response is that the state would not do so under Maine Revised Statutes, Title 28-A, numbers 653 and 654, which deal with liquor licenses.

Liquor licenses are subject to both city and state approval. The city considers an applicant first, and the state, second, according to Sanborn.

Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois said Tuesday that the state liquor license application contains a question about whether the applicant or manager has ever been convicted of any violation of the law other than a minor traffic violation, in any state in the U.S.

“That would be part of the application that would be considered by the (City) Council, for approval,” Dubois said.

City Solicitor William Lee said he would have to look at the application more closely, but under state law, he said, it appears the city could have grounds to deny the liquor license application.

“It looks like under (state law) that the criminal history of an applicant for a liquor license is certainly highly relevant in making the decision as to whether or not such a license would be renewed,” he said.

The Cancun Mexican Restaurant is listed in the name of Cancun LLC. According to the Secretary of State’s corporations division, the members of Cancun LLC are Hector Fuentes, Jose Lewis Sanchez and Juan Fuentes. Reports filed by limited liability companies with the Secretary of State’s office list the members, or partners, in an LLC.

The guilty plea comes in the wake of the reversal of the March 2013 convictions in the case. The Fuentes brothers were found guilty of conspiracy to harbor undocumented aliens for profit, and aiding and abetting document fraud.

However, U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby threw out those convictions after learning that a juror in the original trial uttered a racial slur when referring to the Fuentes brothers. The judge ordered a new trial.

Sharon said Tuesday that Hector Fuentes is well-respected in the community, has children who attend school in Waterville, and the family plans to stay here.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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