The owner of a popular Waterville Mexican restaurant and his brother were sentenced to federal prison Monday for illegally hiring at least 10 undocumented workers at another of their restaurants in Westbrook.

Hector Fuentes, 40, of Waterville, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby to 30 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release, and his brother, Guillermo Fuentes, 38, of Westbrook, was sentenced to 37 months followed by two years of supervised release.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the charges to which the brothers pleaded guilty relate only to illegally hiring undocumented workers at the Fajita Grill in Westbrook, not at Cancun Mexican Restaurant in Waterville or Cancun Mexican Restaurant II in Biddeford.

Hector Fuentes’ attorney Monday night said that he and his client worked to make sure that with the plea Fuentes wasn’t deported to his native Mexico once his time is served and that the restaurant on Silver Street stays open.

Hornby ordered the Fuentes brothers to forfeit more than $48,000 that authorities seized during the investigation. The brothers were convicted in March 2013, but were granted a new trial because one of the jurors referred to them with a racial slur.

Rather than face a new trial, each brother pleaded guilty on June 16 to knowingly hiring undocumented aliens and making false statements to the government. They were orginally convicted in March 2013 of conspiracy, harboring undocumented aliens for profit and aiding and abetting document fraud. The false statements related to statements they made to law enforcement officers in September 2011 that they had completed federally required documentation regarding the immigration status of their employees.

Hector Fuentes’ attorney, Leonard Sharon, said Monday that attorneys for both sides negotiated for several months to find a crime that would lessen or negate the chance of Fuentes being deported after serving the sentence, and they were able to find a harboring case slightly different than the crime for which he was convicted.

“We were satisfied that we were able to work out a deal where it would be unlikely that he would be deported,” Sharon said. “We were satisfied with the sentence.”

He said officials will seek a place for Hector Fuentes to serve that is close to his family. Typically, about a month to five weeks passes between sentencing and the time one has to report, Sharon said.

He said Hector Fuentes made sufficient arrangements to keep both his family and Cancun Mexican Restaurant afloat.

“It will be scary and his family is very concerned,” Sharon said.

Sharon said that with help from the community and Fuentes’ friends, he is fairly confident Fuentes’ family will be able to stay in the community and keep the restaurant open.

The Waterville City Council recently renewed the liquor license for Cancun Mexican Restaurant on Silver Street, according to City Clerk Patti Dubois.

The liquor license application does not list Fuentes’ name, she said. “It’s limited liability company, Cancun LLC,” Dubois said Monday afternoon.

A food license for the restaurant is due for renewal annually in May, she said.

Hornby ordered the new trial in the summer of 2013 after learning that the juror had made the slur to a man at the Eagles Club in Portland on March 9, 2013, after the second of seven days of testimony in the trial, according to documents in U.S. District Court in Portland.

The man who heard the slur was on probation and reported the conversation to his probation officer. He said the juror told him that he wasn’t supposed to be talking about the case, but the defendants were guilty anyway, and he referred to them with a racial slur, according to the judge’s order.

The probation officer did not learn the juror’s name until a month after the trial.

The judge said in his order that he interviewed the juror and the man who was on probation. He said the juror ultimately admitted to making the slur. Hornby said in his order that the juror’s comment raised two important concerns — “that at that early stage of the trial this juror had already made up his mind that the defendants were guilty, and that ethnic stereotyping affected his judgment.”

 


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