Former owner of Chuy's pleads guilty to two federal charges

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- A former owner of Chuy's restaurants accused of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants to staff his kitchens has pleaded guilty to two federal charges.

Christopher Evenson, 39, and his father, Mark Evenson, 58, along with one of their accountants, were arrested in 2011. They faced a variety of criminal charges, including the unlawful hiring of undocumented immigrants, conspiracy to defraud the IRS, and tax evasion.

On Friday, Christopher pleaded guilty to conspiracy to impede and impair the function of the Internal Revenue Service, and engaging in a pattern and practice of hiring illegal aliens.

Authorities claimed the Evensons knowingly hired undocumented immigrants to work in the kitchens of their restaurants, while hiring legal employees for the more visible positions. The undocumented workers were allegedly paid “under the table” so no taxes were withheld or reported to the IRS. The legal workers were paid via normal payroll procedures.

The charges followed a lengthy investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

“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 in a news release. “That deceitful practice, which hurts all law-abiding tax payers and employers, must stop. 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.”

“Employers who knowingly hire an illegal workforce encourage illegal immigration, take jobs away from legal workers and gain an unfair advantage over their competitors,” said Matt Allen, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Arizona, in a news release. “This case should be a reminder about the consequences facing employers who exploit illegal alien labor and violate our nation’s laws. No employer, regardless of size, industry, or location is above the law.”

The indictment indicates that the Evensons began filing fraudulent quarterly tax returns some time before January 2008 and continued doing so for the next two years. That means the restaurant’s management company failed to pay at least $400,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

“Employment tax evasion undermines public confidence in our tax system and businesses that don’t follow the rules have an unfair advantage over their competitors,” said Dawn Mertz, special agent in charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, in a news release. “Tax evasion is not a victimless crime and results in the loss of future Social Security or Medicare benefits for the employees and loss of tax revenue to the United States government.”

The case against Mark Evenson was dismissed in January, after he was determined to be mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Chris Evenson is set to be sentenced July 14, 2014.