Friday, July 13, 2007

A criminal complaint unsealed yesterday charges the owners of the El Pollo Rico restaurant in Wheaton with employing and harboring illegal aliens, money laundering and structuring deposits to avoid currency reporting requirements.

Named in the complaint were Francisco Carlos Solano, 55, and his wife, Ines Solano, 59, both of Germantown. Also named were Mr. Solano’s sister, Consuelo, 69, of Arlington, and brother, Juan, 57, of Kensington.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in Maryland said the complaint was filed on Monday and unsealed after the four suspects were arrested.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the complaint, Francisco, Consuelo and Juan Solano are natives of Peru, and Ines Solano is a native of Colombia who became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Francisco and Consuelo Solano own the El Pollo Rico restaurant.

They are accused of hiring numerous illegal aliens at the restaurantand paying them in cash until the employee obtained temporary status, at which time they were paid by check, according to the affidavit. It said the employees were housed in residences owned by Francisco Solano in Wheaton and Kensington.

The affidavit said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service agents observed that next to the restaurant cash register was a sign stating “cash only,” along with an ATM from which customers withdrew cash to pay for food. According to the company that operates the ATM, the restaurant stocks the ATM with money, and the company operating the ATM reimburses the restaurant for cash withdrawn by customers.

Among other things, the affidavit said the cash payments permitted the Solanos to hide payments to illegal alien employees.

According to the affidavit, beginning in June 2002 and running through September 2006, more than 800 deposits in amounts typically ranging from $7,000 to $9,000 were made into an El Pollo Rico business account, totaling over $6.6 million.

It said the deposits were made to avoid triggering the filing of a currency transaction report required for amounts in excess of $10,000.

On 15 occasions, according to the affidavit, more than one deposit of less than $10,000 was made on the same day, at the same branch bank, often within hours of each other. Most of the deposits from the restaurant proceeds, it said, were made by Francisco or Ines Solano, and were composed mostly of 10- and 20-dollar bills in newer condition.

The four suspects face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for employing and harboring illegal aliens, 10 years in prison for structuring deposits to avoid currency reporting requirements and 20 years for money laundering.

Consuelo and Juan Solano had their initial appearances in U.S. District Court yesterday. Francisco and Ines Solano were arrested in Las Vegas and will have their initial appearances in Greenbelt on Monday.

ICE agents seized more than $2 million in cash and jewelry from residences of the suspects and several vehicles.

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