indictment seeks forfeiture of Augusta restaurant

Chad Frey
Butler County Times Gazette

One worker from an Augusta eatery faces an arrest following an investigation by immigration officials. The owner of dozens of Mexican restaurants in several states, along with the company’s president, CFO, controller and sales manager are among 19 defendants charged in a federal racketeering conspiracy to hire undocumented workers.

Playa Azul of Augusta was named in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act indictment.

Playa Azul of Augusta, along with Alejandro Castillo-Ramirez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in Augusta, were named in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act indictment. 

Jose Luis Bravo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Claremore, Oklahoma, was identified in the indictment as the leader of the enterprise. He is the owner of Specialty Food Distribution in Joplin and the owner of a group of restaurants registered as Bravos Group, LLC, including El Charro, El Charrito, Playa Azul, Itza, LLC, Cantina Bravo, and El Chango.

The indictment also contains forfeiture allegations against several defendants, which would require them to forfeit to the government the funds contained in several bank accounts as well as real estate located in Great Bend, Pittsburg, and Augusta in Kansas; Butler, Joplin, and West Plains in Missouri; and Claremore, Okmulgee, Muskogee, Enid, and Tahlequah in Oklahoma.

According to the indictment, Bravo supplied unauthorized alien workers to managers at restaurants in which he had a financial interest. Bravo arranged to have undocumented workers smuggled into the United States to work at these restaurants and other businesses, the indictment says. Bravo allegedly assisted these aliens with obtaining fraudulent documents that would allow them to work in the United States. He allegedly helped secure transportation and lodging for them en route to restaurants where they were to work.

The federal indictment alleges that 17 of the 19 co-defendants were part of an organized criminal enterprise from July 2003 to Aug. 10, 2021, that smuggled Mexican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadoran nationals who were not authorized to live or work in the United States. Conspirators allegedly harbored them in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Conspirators created a network of restaurants operating as LLCs in states throughout the Midwest, allegedly supplying these restaurants with undocumented workers to staff positions at the restaurants. According to the indictment, conspirators did not pay the appropriate state and federal payroll taxes, overtime wages, and worker's compensation for the unauthorized employees.

In addition to smuggling and harboring undocumented workers, the indictment alleges the racketeering activity included fraud (in connection with identification documents), fraud and misuse of visas and other documents, and money laundering. Members and associates of the criminal enterprise shielded unauthorized employees from detection by immigration authorities by eliminating records of their employment, paying them by personal check and in cash, failing to maintain complete and accurate Forms I-9 and required wage and hour reports for these employees, assisting them with the acquisition of false identification documents (such as Social Security numbers and alien resident documents), and making false statements to immigration authorities and law enforcement officials.

Also among those charged are eight current or former managers of restaurants located in Butler, Springfield, Lebanon, West Plains, Willow Springs and St. Robert in Missouri; and in Overland Park,  Great Bend and Augusta.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents, with the assistance of numerous local, states, and federal agencies, executed a series of search warrants at 10 locations in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Federal agents have so far arrested 14 of the 19 defendants.

Jose Luis Bravo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Claremore, Oklahoma; Jose Guadalupe Razo, 51, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Carl Junction, Mo.; Anthony Edward Doll, 43, a citizen of Guatemala, and Miguel Tarin-Martinez, 42, a naturalized U.S. citizen, both of Joplin, Mo.; Antonio Martinez-Munoz, 44, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Broken Arrow, Okla.; Eusebio Ramirez-Ceja, 50, a citizen of Mexico residing in Mountain Home, Arkansas; Oscar Adrian Molina-Angulo, 38, a citizen of Mexico residing in Butler, Mo.;  Rodrigo Manrique Razo, 38, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Great Bend, Kan.; Alejandro Castillo-Ramirez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in Augusta, Kan.; Juan Carlos Palma-Cedeno, 36, a citizen of Mexico residing in Claremore, Okla.; Ramon Moreno-Hernandez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in Nevada, Mo.; Jose Luis Lopez-Valadez, 41, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of West Plains, Mo.; Lorenzo Castro-Manzanarez, 39, a citizen of Mexico residing in St. Robert, Mo.; Jaime Ramirez-Ceja, 42, a citizen of Mexico residing in Lebanon, Mo.; Jose Luis Rodriguez-Valerio, 57, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Tulsa, Okla.;  Veronica Razo De Lara, 46, a naturalized U.S. citizen, of Great Bend, Kan.; Edgar Perez-Perez, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Bernardo Rivas-Gomez, 48, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Elizabeth City, North Carolina; and Daniel Rivas-Carrillo, 23, a citizen of Guatemala residing in Elizabeth City, N.C.; were charged in a 64-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo., on Aug. 10, 2021. That indictment was unsealed and made public upon the arrests and initial court appearances of the defendants.

On Sept. 13, 2019, HSI agents inspected restaurants in Missouri and Kansas that were affiliated with the defendants. Those restaurants operated under LLCs doing business as Cantina Bravo (St. Robert), Cantina Bravo Grille (Webb City, Mo.), El Charro (Neosho, Mo., Marshfield, Mo., West Plains, Joplin, and Pittsburg, Kansas), Maria's Mexican Grill (Great Bend), and Playa Azul (Augusta). All of the restaurants were found to have employed unauthorized employees.

All of the defendants, with the exception of Rivas-Gomez and Rivas-Carrillo, are charged with participating in the racketeering conspiracy. Rivas-Gomez and Rivas-Carrillo are each charged with one count of the use of an unlawfully obtained document and one count of the false representation of a Social Security number.

In addition to the RICO conspiracy, defendants are charged in various counts of transporting illegal aliens, hiring illegal aliens, continuing employment of an unauthorized alien, use of unlawfully obtained documents, false attestations, false representations of Social Security numbers, and the unlawful production and transfer of identification documents.