18 employees indicted in IHOP case - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

18 employees indicted in IHOP case

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TOLEDO, Ohio -

Eighteen IHOP employees from six area locations were indicted Wednesday, including the owner of the restaurants and his wife.

Federal investigators accuse Tarik Elkafrawi of cooking more than pancakes and bacon inside his IHOP restaurants.

"They had a menu of various schemes," says Carole Rendon with the US Attorney's office. "They were used as home bases of criminal enterprises that had one thing in common: money."

Elkafrawi and other employees are accused of cooking the books, mail and wire fraud, defrauded an insurance company out of nearly $1.3 million, and hiring and harboring undocumented workers.

"They hired them and provided them with false and fraudulent identification," says Tom Harter with Immigration Customs Enforcement. "They issued multiple paychecks and then cashed those checks for the employees at the restaurants."

Federal officials say when Elkafrawi bought one of his franchises in Northwest Ohio, he came into contact with Autumn Lee Tangas who worked with IHOP at a higher level. 

"One of her job responsibilities was to audit various IHOP franchises, so corporate IHOP could make sure they were getting paid the proper amount of money," says Carole Rendon with the US Attorney's office. "What ended up happening is that they developed a conspiratorial relationship in which she gained financially by looking the other way."

According to federal officials, that meant a financial gain for the suspects of about $1.2 million.  Where was that money going?  At this point, investigators will only say it was for the suspect's financial gain, nothing more sinister.

"We're just looking at the overall picture of what they were doing, as opposed to running it like legitimate businesses, using it to hire undocumented illegal aliens," says George Crouch with the FBI. "I think the Ohio Bureau of Worker's Compensation was involved, because they were paying people under the table and in cash.  So we're trying to get to the bottom of whether it would involve anything like that."

The FBI is seeking the forfeiture of two homes, six cars, and money in various bank accounts. Investigators say the homes and cars were purchased with $3 million the group made from various schemes.

"It is our aim to make sure that this group gets their next helping of pancakes behind the federal counter of a prison cafeteria."  

Most of the 18 indicted Wednesday face charges for making false statements. Six face more serious charges.

Some of the 18 suspects have already been arraigned. Nearly a dozen defendants appeared in district court Wednesday. All were granted court appointed attorneys, and all pleaded not guilty. Those suspects were released on $10,000 unsecured bonds and must surrender their passports.

Before his court appearance, the wife of one of the defendants told the press the government is conducting a witch hunt.

"It's just all racial profiling," says Tonia Aboudakka. "That's all it is."

Tonia's husband, Kahlil, was a district manager with the IHOP chain. He faces a charge of harboring an illegal alien, identity fraud and making false statements.

Tonia isn't buying it.

"It's a bum rap to get the Arabs off the streets and keep them from being successful," she says.

She also claims the government will not be able to prove the 68 counts against the 18 defendants and says the real crime is what the US government is doing to the people they've charged.

"These are good men that they done this to, and these are good families that they are destroying," she says.

The defendants will next appear in court July 6.

The IHOP corporate office says it plans to keep all the locations open in the long term as it works to find new ownership.

IHOP employees are awaiting the fate of their jobs as the investigation unfolds.

One employee who asked not to be identified says, "This company put themselves in this situation, and they have to dig themselves out. For the employees to have to deal with the fallout is not fair to us."

"There is a lot more to this company than just that indictment states," the employee says. "There are deposits that are being made that are written down one way on paper, but then when entered into the computer system it is totally different."

The employee says, when he questioned management about the numbers, they told him it was the result of an input error.

"I was like, 'Okay, if it's an input error, it's an input error, but it's happening more than once,'" he says.

IHOP released a statement Wednesday regarding the raids:

"IHOP is committed to following the letter and spirit of the law. We have been cooperating fully with law enforcement during this investigation and will continue to assist the authorities.

We are disappointed by these new developments, which if true, are also completely contrary to our employment practices and inconsistent with our values. There is no place for such violations within our system.

We respect our country's judicial system, which must now work its proper course to make a final determination in this matter."

One final suspect will be arraigned in US District court in Toledo today. Carlos Gamboa's arraignment is currently scheduled for 2:30. 

The following names are listed on the indictment:

  • Tarek Elkafrawi
  • Tarek Eid Omar
  • Autumn Lee Tangas
  • Kelly Elkafrawi
  • Jose Leon-Gonzalez, aka Jose Leon, aka Jose Vargas, aka Juan Vargas, aka Edwin Martel
  • Carlos Gamboa
  • Khaled Yousef
  • Jamil Mohammed Awwad
  • Ramiz Awwad
  • Khalil Aboudakka
  • Mahmoud Ali
  • Mohamed Hassan
  • Donna J. Harriott
  • Lucky Williams
  • Sara Rinebolt
  • Cesar Avila
  • Mark Anthony Turner
  • Yoni Merida
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