Restaurateurs Arrested for Illegal Workers

By Ernesto Londoño and Mariana Minaya
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 13, 2007

Four members of a family that owns popular chicken restaurants in the Washington area were arrested by federal agents yesterday for knowingly employing illegal immigrants and laundering the money earned from that business, according to immigration officials.

Francisco Carlos Solano, 55, and his his wife, Inés Solano, 59, of Germantown; Consuelo Solano, 69, of Arlington County; and Juan Faustino Solano, 57, of Kensington were charged with employing and harboring illegal immigrants, money laundering and structuring deposits to avoid financial reporting requirements, according to a criminal complaint unsealed yesterday. Nine employees of their El Pollo Rico restaurant in Wheaton were taken into custody and will be placed in deportation proceedings, authorities said.

According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, the Solanos housed many of their workers, some of whom were in the county illegally, at houses in Kensington and Wheaton.

The restaurant, at 2541 Ennalls Ave., accepted only cash. The Solanos paid employees who were in the county illegally in cash and wrote checks to those who were here legally, prosecutors said.

Federal agents say the Solanos deposited more than $6.6 million into a business account between June 2002 and September 2006 in increments of $7,000 to $9,000, which authorities say was done to avoid filing currency transaction reports that must be submitted with deposits that exceed $10,000.

The Solanos deposited checks from the business account into their personal accounts and used the proceeds to purchase residences, vehicles, loan and life insurance policies, and retirement accounts, according to the affidavit. Federal agents seized more than $2 million in cash and jewelry from the Solanos' residences and vehicles, authorities said.

James Dinkins, the special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Baltimore, said the investigation began a year and a half ago, when suspicious bank deposits were brought to the agency's attention.

Court-appointed attorneys who represented Francisco and Inés Solano during brief arraignments in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt declined to comment on the allegations. Francisco Solano and his wife were released after being arraigned.

Consuelo Solano and Juan Faustino Solano were taken into custody by immigration agents in Las Vegas and are expected to return to Maryland to be arraigned in Greenbelt on Monday.

Francisco, Consuelo and Juan Solano are siblings. They were born in Peru but became U.S. citizens. Consuelo is a former employee of the World Bank, according to the affidavit. Inés, who is originally from Colombia, is also a U.S. citizen.

El Pollo Rico opened in 1988 and became hugely successful among Peruvian immigrants. Its popularity soon spread.

The original restaurant was in Arlington, and the family owns at least two in the Washington area. The only target of the investigation was the Wheaton franchise, law enforcement officials said.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company