SCHERERVILLE | A prosecutor wants to shut down two popular Mexican restaurants in Merrillville and Schererville after police seized more than $139,000 from them during raids in November.
Prosecutors in Lafayette and Indianapolis have filed civil forfeiture lawsuits to keep more $3.4 million that Indiana State Police confiscated during raids of more than two dozen Mexican restaurants across the state, including the La Carreta restaurants on Indianapolis Boulevard and U.S. 30. No criminal charges have been filed.
A civil lawsuit filed by the Tippecanoe County prosecutor's office alleges the seized money was illegally obtained, and that La Carreta owner Arnulfo Gonzalez and other restaurant owners engaged in racketeering. According to the lawsuit, La Carreta and other Mexican restaurants across the state committed offenses that included money laundering, theft of unreported sales taxes, forgery and perjury.
El Rodeo, El Jaripeo and Los Toros restaurants also were named in the suit. The raided Mexican restaurants were all over Indiana, including in Indianapolis, Avon, Greenfield, Greenwood, Carmel, Fishers, Lafayette, Richmond, Plainfield, Frankfort, Lebanon and West Lafayette.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry filed a similar civil forfeiture lawsuit against nearly 20 Indianapolis-area Mexican restaurants that had been raided. His lawsuit aims to seize money, a Ford F-150 pickup truck, other vehicles and houses, including a 4.5-bathroom, 6,065-square-foot home in the tony waterfront Geist neighborhood in Fishers.
Police seized $914,224 in U.S. currency as well as money in 18 foreign denominations from Francisco Salgado, the registered agent of several of the restaurants, according to the lawsuit. Officers confiscated Mexican, Korean, Kuwaiti, Ecuadorian, Brazilian, Italian, and Nicaraguan currencies, among others.
According to the Tippecanoe County lawsuit, La Carreta and other restaurants transferred the proceeds of criminal activity, failed to report sales and other taxes owed to the state of Indiana and provided false or misleading information on tax documents, business formation documents, employment records and tax returns.
"The defendants have participated in, constructed and continued to operate one or more corrupt business enterprise, through a pattern of racketeering activity," the lawsuit said. "This conduct has continued as a pattern of racketeering activity, and not as isolated instances, all in violation of the criminal statutes of the state of Indiana."
No criminal charges have been filed to date, according to the Tippecanoe County clerk's office. Marion County prosecutor's office spokeswoman Peg McLeish said an investigation is ongoing, and criminal charges have not yet been filed in Indianapolis, either.
Gonzalez could not be reached for comment. Police also raided and seized money from a third La Carreta restaurant he owns in Vincennes in southwestern Indiana.
The lawsuit asks a judge to forfeit the seized money to the government, order Gonzalez and the other restaurant owners to divest themselves of any interest in their businesses, bar them from racketeering, dissolve their businesses, revoke all state licenses, and forfeit the restaurants' corporate charters. The lawsuit asks a judge to prohibit the restaurant owners from ever reorganizing their businesses.
Specifically, the suit asks "for an order forfeiting the charters of said restaurants and/or businesses, which allows said restaurants and/or businesses to operate and to act as a corporation organized under the laws of the state of Indiana and including the revocation of a certificate authorizing a foreign corporation to conduct business within the state."
The La Carreta restaurants briefly shut down after Nov. 18 raids by Indiana State Police and Indiana State Excise Police but reopened after a few days. Police took $2,642 from the Schererville eatery, and $84,153 from its bank account, according to the lawsuit. They also confiscated $1,204 from the Merrillville location, and more than $51,300 from its bank accounts.
La Carreta opened in Merrillville in 2005, and added a Schererville location in 2010. The often-packed restaurants are known for their fish tacos and strong margaritas.
Both La Carreta restaurants in Northwest Indiana were open Tuesday. An employee at the Schererville restaurant said it would stay open as long as possible, though it was not certain what would happen with the legal proceedings.