Owner: Mexican eatery is new deal

‘Whatever happened before has nothing to do with us,’ the new owner said.

By Peter H. Milliken

YOUNGSTOWN — A Mexican restaurant on Midlothian Boulevard is operating under new ownership, employs only legal workers and is undergoing a name change, its new management says.

The Casa Fiesta Restaurant, 914 E. Midlothian Blvd., is changing its name to Casa del Patron, and a sign bearing the new name soon will be erected, said Denise Penny, of Corbin, Ky., one of the new owners.

Quinpenn LLC, a partnership of Penny; her husband, George; and Judith Quintana; bought the restaurant Dec. 17, 2009, from its former owner, Ramon J. Ornelas, 42, of Norwalk, Ohio.

The new owners plan to buy the building the restaurant occupies from Ornelas, said Denise Penny, president of Quinpenn.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, said Jose Vera, of Boardman, who manages the restaurant and is Quintana’s husband.

On Jan. 21, the U.S. attorney charged Ornelas with eight counts of harboring or concealing illegal immigrants, three counts of mail fraud and seven counts of subscribing to a false tax return. He will be arraigned March 9 in federal court.

“A lot of people were calling and asking if we were closed because of this. They thought this illegal thing had to do with our business,” Denise Penny said. “Whatever happened before has nothing to do with us.”

The restaurant suffered a $2,000 loss in sales Friday after the federal charges against Ornelas were publicized, Denise Penny said. “We want a fresh start and a fresh name,” she said. “We want everyone to know we have the same food.”

The charges stemmed from simultaneous July 23, 2008, raids, in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 58 undocumented Mexican nationals working at eight Ohio Casa Fiesta restaurants, including 11 workers at the one here.

Ornelas was the principal owner of Casa Fiestas in Youngstown, Vermillion, Ashland, Norwalk, Fremont, Oberlin, Oregon and Sandusky when the offenses occurred, the U.S. attorney said.

Quinpenn bought only the Youngstown restaurant, Denise Penny said.

Neither Ornelas, nor Moises Ayala-Garcia, who was acting manager the Youngstown restaurant when it re-opened a week after the raid, have any involvement in the Youngstown business today, Denise Penny said.

All workers in the Youngstown restaurant are legally in the United States, Vera and Denise Penny said. “We’re not hiding anybody,” Vera said.

The federal charges against Ornelas say that, under his ownership, the restaurants regularly employed undocumented workers, sometimes providing them places to live, and paid them in cash without withholding taxes for the IRS.

Ornelas is charged with filing false forms that didn’t claim the undocumented workers and under-reported the tax owed to the IRS.

He’s also charged with mail fraud for allegedly filing false reports with the state, which under-reported the number of workers and the unemployment insurance tax owed to the state.

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