By Jeremy Pittari, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Facing felony charges, three local business associates each pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in a case that involved the employment of undocumented workers.
Federal agents arrested four people In February 2012, 36-year-old Jose Gutierrez, 58-year-old Juan Barajas, 38-year-old Evaristo Jimenez and 39 year-old Vicente Jimenez on charges that they employed workers from out of the country who did not have the proper documentation.
An indictment filed in the Southern District of Mississippi Southern Division U.S. District Court states all four men “owned and managed restaurants... at which undocumented aliens were employed.”
On Feb. 23 of last year, arrests were made at the locations of three restaurants in Pearl River County, two in Picayune and one in Poplarville, where 20 undocumented workers were taken into custody. According to the Sun Herald, several of the workers have since been deported along with Vicente Jimenez.
This week the three remaining defendants pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of employing a person without a proper work permit, said Joe Holliman, Gutierrez’s defense attorney. Holliman expressed concern that the arrests by the agents caused some rumors in the area, some of which alleged drugs were being sold from the businesses. Holliman said drug dealing did not take place at any of the businesses, nor were there any other serious offenses.
“This hurt their business. Rumor can damage your business severely,” Holliman said. “I hope the public will give them a second chance and come back into their restaurants.”
Holliman said as part of their guilty pleas Gutierrez and Barajas received three years of probation. The Sun Herald reported Evaristo Jimenez received a year of probation. Holliman said the probation time could be lessened if the fine levied against the defendants is paid off in a timely manner.
That fine is $50,000, against Gutierrez and Barajas, in addition to $21,000 seized from bank accounts during the February arrests, Holliman said.
Holliman said Gutierrez pleaded guilty to hiring a relative, who had a social security card and other documentation to show he was a legal resident, however that documentation turned out to be fraudulent.
The indictment states the wages earned by the 20 undocumented employees were not reported to the IRS nor to the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. When the arrest warrants were served on Feb. 23, 11 undocumented workers were arrested by Department of Homeland Security agents at the South Haugh location in Picayune, four undocumented workers were arrested at the Poplarville location and five undocumented workers were arrested at the Richardson Ozona Road location in Picayune, the indictment states.
Calls to Gutierrez for comment about the future of the businesses were not immediately returned, but if Gutierrez decides to make a statement, an updated story will follow.