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Former Chuy’s owner enters plea deal

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Evenson continued a method of operation previously established by his father, specifically, the practice of hiring and employing illegal aliens

PHOENIX – Christopher Mark Evenson, former owner of Chuy’s Mesquite Broiler restaurants in Phoenix and Tucson, entered into a plea agreement on Friday, April 11, pleading guilty to counts 1 and 18 of a 20-count superseding indictment, which charged him with conspiracy to impede and impair the function of the Internal Revenue Service and engaging in a pattern and practice of hiring illegal aliens.

The superseding indictment also included a forfeiture allegation for any property used or intended to be used to facilitate the commission of the offense.

Pending charges against his father Mark Harold Evenson were dismissed in January without prejudice after the government received two mental health evaluations, which both indicated he was mentally incompetent to stand trial, and stated attempting to restore his competency was not a viable option.

The Evensons were indicted by a federal grand jury in April 2011, with a superseding indictment filed on Oct. 12, 2012.

The indictment asserted the Evensons hired illegal aliens, or non-citizens without authorization to work in the United States, to work in the kitchens of their restaurants, while they hired legal workers for servers and other more prominent restaurant positions.

The Evensons used different methods for paying the illegal aliens and the legal workers.

For the legal workers, summary sheets containing total hours worked during the pay period were provided to either CompuPay, where appropriate deductions for tax withholding, FICA and Medicare taxes were made in preparing the payroll checks.

For the illegal alien workers, the summary sheets reflected the employees’ names, hours worked and their hourly rate of pay.

Each store manager calculated the amount of an employee’s paycheck by multiplying the number of hours by the hourly rate. The store manager then wrote checks for the illegal workers without deducting any payroll taxes.

According to Evenson’s plea agreement, beginning in April 2008 and ending around January 31, 2009, there was an agreement between two or more persons to “defraud the United States for the purpose of impeding, obstructing and defeating, by deceitful and unlawful means, the lawful government functions of the Internal Revenue Service, in the ascertainment, computation, assessment, and collection of Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes.”

Evenson also engaged in a pattern and practice of hiring illegal aliens for employment that he knew were not authorized to work in the United States.

The maximum penalties for count 1 include a fine of up to $250,000, a maximum term of five years in prison, or both, and a term of up to three years of supervised release.

The maximum penalties for the offense in count 18 are a fine of up to $3,000 for each illegal alien and a maximum term of 6 months imprisonment, or both.

Evenson and the government stipulated and agreed to a sentencing range of 0-6 months, with the government agreeing not to make a sentencing recommendation.

The plea agreement asserts that Mark Evenson, Evenson’s father, was the major decision maker in the various corporate entities that operated the Chuy’s restaurants in Arizona. Evenson was the area manager for the Tucson restaurants, in charge of the day-to-day restaurant operations.

Evenson continued a method of operation previously established by his father, specifically, the practice of hiring and employing illegal aliens.

From January 2008 to December 2010, Evenson knowingly, regularly and repeatedly caused such individuals to be hired. In December 2009, approximately 30 illegal aliens were employed in the Tucson Chuy’s restaurants.

The illegal aliens were paid the same hourly wages as the legal workers.

However the managers of the Chuy’s restaurants in both Phoenix and Tucson continued the method of preparing bi-weekly payroll summary sheets, as established by Mark Evenson, whereas there were two categories of employees: 1) employees whose paychecks would be prepared with proper income tax and FICA withholding, and 2) employees who were paid handwritten checks generally prepared by the managers at each restaurant without any required withholding tax deducted from their pay.

Evenson signed some of those handwritten checks.

The quarterly payroll returns prepared by CompuPay were based on the payroll information submitted to them, which did not include payroll information for the illegal workers.

Because payroll information for the illegal alien employees was not supplied to CompuPay, those wages were not included in the quarterly returns filed between April 30, 2008 and January 31, 2009.

Therefore, the returns for those periods falsely reported the amount of wages paid to employees of the restaurants and falsely reported the amount of FICA taxes paid by the restaurant on behalf of those employees.

The amount of unreported and unpaid FICA taxes for 2008 and 2009 totaled $94,591 for the restaurants managed by Evenson.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco in Tucson, where Evenson submitted his plea, recommended the U.S. District Court accept Evenson’s plea and set the timelines for submitting the presentence report.

Sentencing is set for July 14 before Senior Judge David Bury.

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