Theft earns 3 home detention

Indianapolis Business Journal

INDIANAPOLIS — The owners of a popular chain of Mexican restaurants, one of which is located in New Palestine, have been sentenced to home detention after pleading guilty to theft for failing to report millions of dollars of sales.

Francisco Salgado, Jose Melendez and Abel Bustos were convicted and sentenced in Marion County on Monday morning.

Salgado is from Indianapolis. Melendez is a Fortville resident. Bustos’ address has not been included in court documents.

Their chain of 26 restaurants, which operates in 10 Indiana counties under the names El Rodeo and El Jaripeo, failed to report an estimated $22.7 million in sales between 2010 and 2012, prosecutors said. Investigators said more than 25 percent of the chain’s revenue was not reported to the state during that period.

Salgado and Melendez each pleaded guilty to 10 counts of theft. They were both given 10-year sentences with eight of those years suspended. The remaining two years will be served on home detention.

Bustos, who pleaded guilty to two counts of theft, received a two-year sentence, with one year suspended. He will serve the year on home detention.

All three owners were ordered to serve one year of probation after they serve their sentences.

Under separate civil charges announced in January, the owners agreed to pay $4.53 million in restitution.

The forfeiture, which will come from funds previously seized by authorities, will be split among the Indiana Department of Revenue for unpaid food and beverage tax, local counties and municipalities that are owed unpaid taxes and among the agencies involved in the investigation.

An investigation by the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, Tippecanoe County Prosecutor’s Office and police in Lafayette found the restaurants often failed to give customers a receipt, kept “ghost books” and skimmed cash at registers.

“We are pleased with the conclusion of these cases,” Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said in a written statement. “The investigation uncovered a deliberate and systemic effort to underreport sales to the state and commit these crimes. I hope this sends a clear message that we will investigate similar crimes and hold business owners responsible to provide a level playing field for the legitimate businesses serving our community.”

Police confiscated more than $3.4 million during statewide raids at numerous El Rodeo restaurants and other Mexican restaurants around Indiana late in 2013. One of raids included the New Palestine El Jaripeo establishment. El Rodeo in Greenfield, which has since been torn down, was not raided, though it was owned by the same people.

When charges were brought against the owners early this year, a restaurant manager at the El Jaripeo in New Palestine said it was business as usual for the eatery, which remains open to diners.

The Daily Reporter staff contributed to this report.