Metro area Mexican restaurant owners charged in federal labor trafficking scheme

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Peachtree City couple accused of making 10 victims, some in the U.S. illegally, work against their will

A Peachtree City couple who own two Mexican restaurants in south metro Atlanta have been charged with 16 federal counts in a labor trafficking scheme that ensnared 10 victims, officials said.

Efrain and Estella Gonzalez were federally indicted on forced labor charges related to their two restaurants, both called Sabor a Mexico, located in Fayetteville and Fairburn, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday.

Efrain Gonzalez is also charged with five counts of alien smuggling, while Estella Gonzalez faces one count of the same charge, according to the indictment obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The charges stem from a period between March 2021 and October 2022, officials said.

In addition to the charges unsealed Monday, the indictment alleges that their labor trafficking scheme was carried out while Efrain Gonzalez was on pre-trial release in a separate federal case. He was charged in 2021 in a money laundering conspiracy in the Southern District of Texas, the indictment said.

According to the DOJ, the Gonzalezes “used force, threats of force, coercion and abuse of law and legal process to compel victims to engage in forced labor.” No details were provided about what kind of labor the victims were doing, and none of the victims have been publicly identified.

Five of the victims were illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. by Efrain Gonzalez “for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain,” despite knowing they did not have prior authorization, the indictment said.

Each forced labor count has a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, the DOJ said.

The accusations of forced labor have not been the only issues plaguing the Sabor a Mexico restaurants. In March, the Fayetteville location failed its third routine health inspection, the AJC reported. During an earlier failed inspection, there was no one in charge of food safety at the restaurant.