Nearly all charges dropped in Acapulco restaurant raid

Adolfo Lopez (Source: Dearborn County Jail)
Adolfo Lopez (Source: Dearborn County Jail)
Benito Lopez (Source: Dearborn County Jail)
Benito Lopez (Source: Dearborn County Jail)

LAWRENCEBURG, IN (FOX19) - More than one hundred people charged following a controversial restaurant raid are no longer in trouble with the law.

"This is one of the worst, most troubling abuses of power that has happened in the time that I've been here and I don't want it to happen again," Dearborn County attorney Doug Garner said Wednesday.

"We didn't take advantage of these people," argued prosecutor Aaron Negangard. "In fact, in my opinion, we helped."

The raid took place in September at Acapulco restaurants in Southeast Indiana.

Dearborn Circuit Court documents filed Friday show charges have been dismissed for all but two people. According to the Dearborn County Sheriff's Department, Adolfo Lopez and Benito Lopez are still facing charges. The owners' charges include forgery, perjury and corrupt business influence. Prosecutors say more than $4.4 million in business income went unreported between 2008 and 2012.

Prosecutor Aaron Negangard told FOX19 they decided to drop the charges on the other individuals because they believe the evidence shows many of the people arrested were actually victims; arguing they were being exploited by the owner of the business.

Doug Garner, the defense attorney representing one of the owners, believes that concern for the employees is disingenuous citing how those same employees were first arrested and held in jail in 'horrific conditions without specific evidence that each individual person committed a crime'.

"The question is not: 'Why did these charges get dismissed?'  The question is: 'Why did they get filed to begin with?'" argued Garner.

"There was no investigation into 'Did this individual person fill out this paperwork using a fake social security number?' That's not anywhere in here," he said referencing court documents. "They just rounded everybody up and threw them all in jail and it just shows a total callous disregard of the consequences of being arrested."

On the other side, Negangard argues they had probable cause to justify the arrest warrant for the 109 people.

"We did investigate that those people were working there and that the social security numbers that they used were false," he said.

Ultimately 40 to 50 people went to jail.

"Many of these people did nothing wrong and yet had to spend a day, two days, three days, four days locked up in Dearborn County jail simply because they were workers at a Mexican restaurant," Garner said.

Garner believes the employee's immigration status may have been used to encourage statements.

"It was in furtherance of their investigation is why these people were arrested to begin with," he argued. "Not necessarily that they thought these people had committed any crimes, but they were witnesses that they thought they could get information from and they certainly could."

Negangard, however, maintains the employees arrested were guilty of identity deception and were justly jailed.

"If we wanted to expend the amount of resources on that we could still, but my job as the prosecutor is to exercise some discretion and try to get focus, limited resources, on those who are most culpable," he told FOX19.

Negangard argues the owner of the restaurant was the biggest exploiter of the individuals. He alleged the owner underpaid workers and forced them to give back portions of earnings in certain cases.

"I would say that the process in this case has shown that we're relentlessly pursuing justice," he argued.

While most of the employees were held for a matter of days, FOX19 confirmed at least one man was held in jail until last Friday. Negangard says some people were deported following their arrests, but not on charges related to this case.

Benito Lopez is out on bond. Adolfo Lopez is currently being held at a jail in Dearborn County. His trial date is set for February 4th.

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