-- — Benito Lopez, 49, Batesville, was booked into the Dearborn County Jail, Lawrenceburg, just before 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, according to its Web site. Indiana State Excise Police had been looking for him since attempting to serve an arrest warrant Sept. 24, charging him with corrupt business influence, conspiracy to commit corrupt business influence and forgery, Class C felonies, and perjury, a Class D felony, in connection with the investigation of actions taken by employees at Acapulco Mexican restaurants in Batesville, Versailles, Lawrenceburg, Rising Sun and Aurora.
Dearborn and Ohio counties Prosecutor Aaron Negangard pointed out Oct. 17 that Lopez “did come back early from Mexico to face these charges. Even though he got arrested at his home by Batesville police, he had contacted” his attorneys, Glenn and Karen Huelskamp, Indianapolis, and was scheduled to be turned in.
At Lopez’s initial hearing in Dearborn County Circuit Court Oct. 17, Negangard advised Judge James Humphrey about the defendant’s criminal history and nature of the crimes. He suggested to the judge that a bond amount “needs to be set sufficient to insure his appearance at future hearings.”
The prosecutor also told the judge that of the $3.5 million recovered by authorities so far, almost 8 percent, $268,000 in cash, came from Lopez, most found in a safety deposit box at FCN Bank, Batesville.
A pretrial hearing was set for Nov. 16.
Later that day, Humphrey decided Lopez could be released from jail if he posted a $150,000 surety bond (10 percent or $15,000 in cash) plus $5,000 in cash only, reported Negangard’s assistant, paralegal and victims’ advocate Mary Miller.
That’s a lower amount than bonds set for two others who owned the Batesville restaurant with Lopez – Adolfo Lopez, 43, Lawrenceburg, and Abel Bustos, 50, Lafayette. Bustos and Adolfo Lopez were transported to the jail Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, respectively, each charged with three felonies: corrupt business influence, conspiracy and identity deception.
Adolfo Lopez’s amounts were set at a $3 million surety bond and $250,000 cash only and Busto’s at a $1 million surety bond and $50,000 cash only, according to Miller. The trio were still incarcerated midday Thursday.
When asked if the Lopezes are related, ISEP Cpl. Travis Thickstun, public information officer, Indianapolis, replied, “There is some indication they are brothers. We’re not entirely sure.” On the other hand, Negangard said the men are not related.
Forty-two – almost half of the 110 with charges – have been arrested, Thickstun said Oct. 17. After Sept. 25 hearings, “many of the workers have posted bonds” of about $3,000 and were released, said the prosecutor. “I know a few have been deported.”
If others have fled to Mexico or other states, will attempts be made to extradite them to face the charges? He answered, “If they fled to Mexico, probably not. It’s so difficult to identify and find illegal, undocumented aliens. They could change their names and identities relatively easily.” Because many Hispanics use two last names, a father’s and mother’s, “what often happens, they’ll use the other last name.”
All trials and plea agreements will be handled by the Dearborn County Circuit Court. He added that defendants convicted of felonies will be deported.
When asked to comment about the alleged crimes, Negangard said, “My feeling is the principal business owners were engaged in a significant amount of criminal activity. They effectively were not playing by the rules that every other small business is required to do. It’s obvious ... this criminal enterprise was very profitable. At a time when so many individuals and businesses are struggling, I find it appalling they engaged in this behavior.”
Negangard reminded that those arrested are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
He said the investigation is ongoing. “There’s more to the story.” With six Acapulco Mexican restaurants outside of Indiana still open, “it’s concerning how widespread this could be.”
Investigation documents have been referred to appropriate agencies in those states.
Court document details alleged wrongdoings
After Indiana State Excise Police spent two years investigating workers and their activities at five southeastern Indiana Acapulco Mexican restaurants, they seized “roughly $3 million in U.S. currency, 12 vehicles and an undisclosed amount of foreign currency” in eight cities while completing 18 search warrants Sept. 24, Thickstun said.
At least eight Batesville restaurant employees were arrested and initially charged with identity deception.
A probable cause affidavit filed in Dearborn County Circuit Court Sept. 24, stated on Feb. 1, 2011, Indiana Department of Revenue Agent Rick Albrecht (since retired) reviewed the federal income tax return, bank statements, cancelled checks, Z portion of cash register tapes, income statements and payroll records of Batesville’s Acapulco No. 6 Mexican Restaurant at the Greenwood accounting office. 2009 cash register tapes showed the machine was frequently closed before the business closed. Albrecht advised Sutton this indicated an underreporting of gross sales. Timothy Sutton, ISEP District 4 investigator, noted, “Sales tax was not being remitted to the Indiana Department of Revenue on the undocumented sales.”
It was also discovered “Hispanic individuals ... employed by the restaurants were using fraudulent Social Security numbers.”