A couple pleaded guilty to various charges in federal court Thursday for concealing people in the country illegally to work at Subway restaurants in Lexington plans.
Amrutlal "Andy" Patel and his wife, Dakshaben Patel, entered guilty pleas under a complex agreement with federal prosecutors, dropping earlier pleas of not guilty.
Among other things, the Patels pledged in the agreement to make restitution of more than $40,000 to employees involved; make restitution of more than $9,000 to the federal government for tax issues; and jointly pay a $65,000 forfeiture to the government.
In return, the government agreed to drop other pending charges the couple faced.
Under the deal, both Patels still face jail time and fines totaling up to $250,000. Immigration consequences, including deportation, also remain possible. The Patels are from India.
Amrutlal Patel, 45, pleaded guilty Thursday to one felony count of harboring or shielding undocumented people from India, and one misdemeanor count of failing to pay them overtime.
Dakshaben Patel, 44, pleaded guilty to failing to pay overtime to workers. She also pleaded guilty Thursday to a "criminal information" charging her with evading federal employment taxes.
U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell scheduled sentencing in the case for Sept. 14.
The Patels were arrested last Nov. 19, after authorities searched their Ellerslie Park Boulevard home in Lexington. Agents also raided their four Lexington Subway outlets on Versailles Road, Southland Drive, East Main Street and West New Circle Road.
Federal investigators later alleged that the Patels housed and employed undocumented Indian nationals, forced them to work 10-and 12-hour days seven days a week at low pay with no overtime.
A federal indictment in December formally charged the couple with concealing undocumented people for "commercial advantage and private financial gain" in violation of federal law. A superseding indictment in February added seven more charges, including failure to pay the minimum wage and aiding and abetting undocumented immigrants.
Before accepting Amrutlal Patel's guilty Thursday, Caldwell questioned him at length about the admission. When she asked if he had committed the acts charged, he said through an interpreter: "It's my fault."
Under his guilty plea to harboring, Amrutlal Patel could face up to 10 years in prison; a $250,000 fine; and up to three years of supervised release after prison. The overtime charge carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.
Dakshaben Patel also admitted to Caldwell committing the acts charged against her. She could face up to 5 years in jail and a $100,000 fine on the tax charge against her, plus six months in jail and up to $10,000 for failing to pay employees overtime.
Afterward, attorney Mark Wohlander, who represents Dakshaben Patel, said Thursday's outcome was an "appropriate" way to resolve the case.
He repeated earlier assertions that the Patels actually were trying to help immigrants from India, as required by teachings of their Hindu faith.
"They are good people," he said.
Wohlander said he thinks both Patels ultimately could be eligible for parole, although he acknowledged that they could be in danger of deportation. He said Andy Patel probably faces a greater deportation risk since he pleaded guilty to an aggravated felony.