Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

January 28, 2014

Plea agreements inked in Acapulco criminal case

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Criminal charges against two out of three owners of the former Acapulco Mexican Restaurant, Batesville, appear to be near resolution. Separate negotiated plea agreements were signed Jan. 15 by defendants Benito Lopez, Batesville, and Adolfo Lopez, Lawrenceburg; their attorneys; and Aaron Negangard, prosecutor for Dearborn and Ohio counties.

The plea agreements are awaiting approval by Dearborn Circuit Court Judge James Humphrey, Negangard said Jan. 23.

For Benito Lopez, the state of Indiana agreed to dismiss three counts: corrupt business influence, conspiracy to commit corrupt business influence and forgery, Class C felonies. The defendant agreed to enter a guilty plea to the charge of perjury, a Class D felony, in connection with the investigation of alleged irregularities discovered at Acapulco Mexican restaurants in Batesville, Versailles, Lawrenceburg, Rising Sun and Aurora.

Charges originally were filed Sept. 24, 2012, against Benito Lopez, then 49, and Adolfo Lopez, then 43, who are not related, according to the prosecutor.

It was recommended that Benito Lopez be sentenced to 364 days, with all suspended to probation, according to the document. When formal sentencing in front of the judge takes place, he will have to pay administrative and monthly fees.

The plea agreement stated, “The defendant stipulates that all cash and/or currency seized and all vehicles seized are proceeds of criminal activity ... with the exception of real property.” Negangard noted, “He gets to keep his house.”

The Herald-Tribune reported Oct. 19, 2012, “Of the $3.5 million recovered by authorities through October 2012, almost 8 percent, $268,000 in cash, came from (Benito) Lopez, most found in a safety deposit box at FCN Bank, Batesville.”

The recommended punishment for Adolfo Lopez is greater. In the agreement, he pleaded guilty to corrupt business influence, theft, forgery and money laundering, Class C felonies; and perjury, a Class D felony. The state suggested an aggregate sentence for all counts of eight years, with six years suspended to in-home detention, which means he will be incarcerated for two years less time already served, if the judge signs the agreement. According to Negangard, “He’s required to make restitution of $305,661 ($61,608 on the date of sentencing in February, then monthly payments of $3,170) to the Department of Labor for unpaid sales taxes. The defendant also must pay the customary offender fees.

Adolfo Lopez is required to give a statement outlining all of his criminal activities under oath and he is subject to a polygraph test. According to the agreement, “a failed polygraph result is appropriate grounds to withdraw the plea,” and a trial would occur instead.

While on probation, both men were ordered not to consume alcoholic beverages and illegal controlled substances and they are subject to testing.

According to Adolfo Lopez’s agreement, “The state does not object to defendant’s probation being transferred out of state if the defendant were to move ...” After one year of probation, the document stated he may petition to terminate it if he has paid all restitution and complies with other probation terms.

With Benito Lopez scheduled to stand trial in Dearborn Circuit Court Jan. 6, why did the prosecutor have a change of heart? Adolfo Lopez was “the primary person involved” in wrongdoing, Negangard contended. “Benito was prepared to cooperate against Adolfo. The terms of that deal with Benito have been worked out for awhile,” but the trial wasn’t cancelled until restitution issues were finalized. “It was always the understanding that he would testify against Adolfo if Adolfo’s matter went to trial.”

Months ago, charges were dismissed against the Batesville restaurant’s third owner, Abel Bustos, then 50, Lafayette, who did not have a hands-on role in its operation.

Benito Lopez is now a shift manager at a restaurant called The Toros in the former Acapulco Mexico Restaurant spot in Batesville, but is not an owner, according to the prosecutor.

The prosecutor had praise for Indiana State Excise Police investigator Tim Sutton, who “really did a remarkable job putting this case together.” Employees overseen by the two owners told Negangard they worked 60-80 hours a week with short breaks “from open to close” at the restaurants “and they were not getting paid a dime for overtime.” Workers also were required to pay back to the restaurants the amounts of their paychecks out of their tip money. “They were being exploited because they were illegal.” He reflected that the two Lopezes were “not just nice immigrants working hard for their families.”

The prosecutor seemed satisfied with how this case has been resolved. “Ultimately, we were able to dismantle this organization and at least the Acapulcos that are still operating in Ohio and Kentucky have certainly changed their methods. I would hope that businesses would learn they have to follow the laws ... Failure to do so can result in significant penalties, including the loss of a significant amount of income.”

Speaking of the defendants, he added, “The profit these guys were getting from the criminal enterprise has not been worth the cost.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.