Oro Valley resident Christopher Evenson was taken into police custody last Wednesday, after Immigration and Custom Enforcement raided more than a dozen Chuy's Mesquite Broiler restaurants in Arizona and California.

Evenson, 39, and father Mark Evenson, 58, of Paradise Valley, who own the Mexican restaurant, face a 19-count indictment. The franchise accountant, Diane Strehlow, of Tempe, was also arrested.

Evenson, his father and Streholow were indicted after an inter-government investigation involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations and the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the indictment, Evenson is being charged with multiple criminal violations, including unlawful hiring and harboring of illegal aliens, conspiracy to defraud the IRS, and tax evasion.

Vincent Picard, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Phoenix, said the raids capped off a two-year investigation that started with an anonymous tip.

During the raid, that included five Tucson locations, about 40 suspected illegal immigrants were detained. All were allegedly working in the restaurants.

"For nearly two years, these defendants are alleged to have knowingly dodged hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes in order to maintain an illegal workforce," said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke. "There should be no place in our economy for employers who cynically exploit and defy the U.S. tax code to take advantage of illegal labor."

The Evensons allegedly employed 360 undocumented aliens throughout the two-year investigation. It is estimated that the company failed to report $400,000 in employment taxes over the course of the alleged conspiracy.

According to the indictment, the Evensons knowingly employed illegal immigrants as workers in the kitchens of their restaurants, while individuals authorized to work in the United States were hired in the more conspicuous jobs, such as servers.

Virginia Kice, a spokesman for ICE in Southern California, said the charges against the owners and franchise accountant at Chuy's were among the toughest yet brought against executives in a work site enforcement operation.

If convicted, Mark Evenson faces up to 86 years in prison and a $5.33 million fine; Christopher Evenson faces up to 81 years in prison and a $5.08 million fine; and, Strehlow faces up to 40 years and a $2 million fine.

The Evensons were arraigned in federal court in Tucson, on April 21.

According to the company website, Chuy's has four restaurants in Tucson, one in Marana, six in Phoenix and one in Glendale and Mesa. The chain has nine locations in California.

On April 20, most of the restaurants were shut down for a day, including the facility on Ina Road.

The Chuy's facility located on 22nd and Kolb in Tucson was not part of the investigation. The owner of the eastside restaurant bought the franchise from the Evensons.

Reporter Thelma Grimes can be reached at 797-4384 or by email at tgrimes@explorernews.com.


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