“What can I say other than I am obsessed with the chicharron quesadilla!” wrote a Yelp reviewer for the Las Quesadillas restaurant in late 2018. “This place is so good. It is the definition of a hole in the wall.”
But behind the cash register, the location’s owners were engaged in a fraud that tricked Mexican investors out of $1 million, according to a federal grand jury indictment earlier this month that was unsealed on Monday.
The Texas State Securities Board, which helped investigate the case, is calling it the “Quesadilla Caper.”
San Antonio residents Juan Enrique Kramer and his wife, Adriana Pastor, who together owned several restaurants throughout Texas and San Antonio, are accused of roping Mexican investors into sinking huge amounts of cash into new franchise restaurants they knew would never materialize.
FBI agents arrested the couple and two other business partners April 9. All four were charged with one or more counts of wire fraud, each of which carry up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.
According to the indictment, between December 2015 and January 2019, Kramer and Pastor told investors that for a fee ranging from $105,000 to $250,000, they could deliver a “turn-key” restaurant under the franchise of Las Quesadillas.
The couple allegedly said they could create an operating restaurant within “three to four months” after beginning construction, and would do all the necessary work to establish it: finding and renting a suitable location; obtaining permits; assisting the buyers with visas; providing equipment, recipes, employee training; and dealing with any incorporation issues. According to the agreements, the couple would then turn the keys over to the buyer.
In reality, prosecutors allege, Kramer would begin construction and never complete the project beyond its initial stages. Because most of the clients were in Mexico, they could not regularly visit the locations. Kramer would talk to them by phone and emails and lie about the ongoing construction or provide excuses, the indictment said. Meanwhile, the couple used the funds for themselves or to pay other investors who complained.
If that failed, and the would-be franchisee refused stakes in other businesses as an alternative payment, Kramer and Pastor would allegedly threaten to sue the investors for breach of contract.
The couple’s business partners, Noel Olguin and Karina Hernandez, allegedly fished for investors at business fairs and conferences throughout Mexico, where they advertised Kramer and Pastor’s extensive experience with these kind of ventures.
Olguin and Hernandez, who were part owners of a company that helped Mexican nationals interested in starting a business in the U.S., were paid $20,000 to $25,000 for each contract they secured, the indictment said. Kramer also promoted the Las Quesadillas businesses by allegedly displaying false and fraudulent accounting to prospective buyers.
Prosecutors say the defendants scammed at least eight victims.
Pastor filed bankruptcy for the couple’s restaurant business in October last year, court records show.
Attorneys for the defendants did not return calls asking for comment by publication time.