Probation for key figure in Chuy's tax fraud and immigration case
Reporter: Craig Smith
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - When Immigrations Agents busted several Chuy's restaurants last year, the owners, and their accountant ended up with a long list of serious Federal charges.
Tuesday, the accountant learned what her punishment will be.
Diane Strehlow made a quick exit from the Federal Courthouse, but she'll probably be back.
She's agreed to testify against her former employers, Mark and Christopher Evenson. Her sentence depends on it.
Instead of the five years she could get, she'll spend a year on probation, and do 20 hours of community service per month for a year.
Last year Immigration and Customs Enforcement busted 15 Chuy's the Evenson's owned in Tucson, the Phoenix area and California.
They arrested illegal immigrants and charged the Evenson's and Strehlow with hiding the illegal workers, and failing to pay payroll taxes on those workers.
Chuy's franchises the Evensons ran closed.
There are still other Chuy's in the Tucson area run by a company not involved in the case.
When it comes to Chuy's run by the Evenson family, the government says Strehlow helped them maintain two different sets of books, one set of books showed employees with all the proper payroll taxes all lined up just right. The other did not, so those employees could basically be paid what the government says was under the table.
Strehlow pled guilty to interfering with the IRS. IRS agent Brian Watson says by not paying payroll taxes, the Evenson's had an unfair advantage over their competitors.
"All of a sudden they can charge less for food and everything else and get more customers, so it's an unfair advantage not to pay your payroll taxes."
In court Strehlow's attorney said the Evenson's paid their taxes until they got in financial trouble. Agent Watson says as times got tough more businesses had trouble paying their tax bills but the IRS can usually work out payment arrangements for businesses in trouble.
We want to make it very clear there are other Chuy's still open and operating here. The franchise owners operating those restaurants are not involved in this case.
As of now, the family that operated the restaurants that are in this case are headed for trial, probably this spring.