The Twin Peaks restaurant chain is receiving attention for something other than serving good food and drinks - employing individuals not authorized to work in the U.S.
Twin Peaks' Wichita, Kansas, location closed down several months ago due to a federal investigation into its hiring practices. Le Grande Tetons, LLC, the company that owned and operated the east Wichita eatery, pled guilty to knowingly hiring people who did not have authorization to work in the country, a practice that can lead to fines of up to $3,000 per violation, according to the Justice Department. The company is now in the process of selling the establishment, if it hasn't completed a deal already. The most recent investigation comes after the restaurant was warned in 2013 about the practice of hiring individuals not legally allowed to work in the U.S.
Twin Peaks closed over the summer due to investigation
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents served search warrants at the Wichita establishment in July 2015, and shortly after, the bar and restaurant closed down.
"The company is now in the process of selling the establishment."
"There's a federal investigation for employment of illegal immigrants," Rusty Rathbun, owner of two Twin Peaks franchises in Wichita, told The Wichita Eagle at the time. "My employees called me this morning and said that ICE was at that location."
Rathbun added that he knew nothing about the hiring of illegal immigrants and that the location would likely only be closed for a couple of days. He explained to the news outlet that he was forced to close the business after investigators took computers, employee files and point-of-sale systems with them. He also added that he intended to move food from the shuttered establishment to another location he operates in west Wichita.
Le Grande Tetons agrees to plea deal with government
However, the ICE investigation found evidence contrary to Rathbun's statements - that the restaurant was, in fact, hiring individuals not authorized to work in the U.S. The company that operated the Twin Peaks bar and restaurant admitted to hiring at least 30 immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, The Associated Press reported. The recent case highlights an emergent trend in Kansas - federal prosecutors are focusing more on targeting business that hire unauthorized individuals in the Sunflower State.
As part of the company's plea deal with the government, it agreed to pay a $50,000 fine, the AP reported. The restaurant's owners, officers, directors and current or former employees will not face charges. That is, except for two former managers still under investigation.
"The word is getting out: Employers who knowingly hire foreign workers who are not authorized to work in the United States face criminal prosecution," said Barry Grissom, a U.S. attorney, according to the news outlet. "I blame employers for this practice, not the employees. It isn't very hard to figure out whether someone from another country has permission to work in the United States."
An employee's email to Homeland Security prompted the recent investigation.
Employee email to Homeland Security prompts investigation
The 2014 investigation was prompted when an employee of the restaurant who was upset about losing hours to people not authorized to work in the U.S. sent an email to a Homeland Security agent, the AP explained. The individual provided the name of a manager who had knowledge of the hiring of illegal immigrants at the east Wichita location. That manager named in the email told authorities that he resigned from his position after several employees fired after the 2013 investigation were asked to return to the establishment.
The news outlet noted other cases in Kansas that illustrate the focus on punishing employers for hiring individuals not authorized to work in the U.S. For example, two Clarion hotels were forfeited after they were found to be hiring illegal immigrants. In March, the owner was sentenced to 27 months in prison.
Businesses across the country must take background verification processes seriously if they hope to avoid the sort of circumstance that Le Grande Tetons has found itself in. The focus on employers is very real, and can turn out costly for those that violate hiring regulations.