State, excise police raid abruptly closes La Carreta restaurants

2013-11-20T19:51:00Z 2013-12-28T02:10:10Z State, excise police raid abruptly closes La Carreta restaurantsJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com
November 20, 2013 7:51 pm  • 

SCHERERVILLE | The popular La Carreta restaurants in Merrillville and Schererville abruptly closed after they were raided Monday by the Indiana State Police and Indiana Excise Police.

The Merrillville location reopened Wednesday afternoon, and an employee said the Schererville location would open at 11 a.m. Thursday.

State police troopers served search warrants at the Mexican restaurants on U.S. 30 in Merrillville and Indianapolis Boulevard in Schererville on Monday, said Sgt. Ann Wojas, an Indiana State Police spokeswoman.

Indiana State Excise Police officers assisted with another agency's investigation at the restaurants, as well as at a number of others across the state, said Cpl. Travis Thickstun, spokesman for the Indiana State Excise Police.

The raids were part of a larger investigation that targeted Mexican restaurants in cities across Indiana, including El Rodeo eateries in Indianapolis, Lafayette, West Lafayette and Richmond. Law enforcement officials were tight-lipped about what they are investigating, but they have made no arrests and filed no criminal charges as of yet.

The Marion County and Tippecanoe County prosecutors' offices coordinated the investigation, which stretched across multiple counties in Indiana, said Peg McLeish, a spokeswoman for the Marion County prosecutor.

"Search warrants were served at numerous locations as part of an ongoing investigation," said Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry in a statement. "We will not comment further in regard to the nature of such an investigation."

Local police were not involved in the raids. Schererville police Cmdr. Brian Neyhart said his department did not participate, and Merrillville Chief of Detectives Robert Wiley said the extent of his agency's involvement was that a single patrolman stood guard outside in the parking lot while state police officers searched for evidence.

The Marion County Sheriff's Office assisted with the raid of an El Rodeo restaurant Monday in Indianapolis, which a police report said stemmed from a grand jury investigation. Officers took pictures of nine employees and seized cash, business documents and the cash registers, which they turned over to the grand jury, according to the case report.

McLeish said the Lake County prosecutor's office was not involved in the investigation to her knowledge.

Customers going to the La Carreta restaurants Tuesday and Wednesday were greeted with handwritten signs that said they were closed. An employee said Tuesday night the restaurants had closed because of "issues" and should reopen Wednesday. The Merrillville restaurant welcomed diners back at 3 p.m., and an employee at the Schererville eatery said they were working Wednesday to get back open and would resume their normal hours.

Arnulfo Gonzalez, the registered owner of both restaurants, did not return messages for comment Tuesday and Wednesday.

Times staff writer Elvia Malagon contributed to this report. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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