A federal judge ordered a new trial for the owners of a Mexican restaurant in Maine — previously convicted on immigration violations — after it was revealed that one of the jurors in the case allegedly used a racial slur against them.

After a week-long trial in March, brothers Hector and Guillermo Fuentes were convicted on charges of conspiracy to harbor undocumented immigrants for profit, as well as engaging in document fraud. The two men are currently out on bail as they await sentencing.

U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby wrote in his 23-page decision, however, that the two men deserve a new trial after he was alerted to one of the juror’s racist comments after reading a written memo sent to him by a state probation officer. 

The officer heard about the slur from one of his case workers who had pleaded guilty to a federal crime and was on bail awaiting sentencing. The man was at the Eagles Club in South Portland in March when he heard the juror make the comment.

“They are all guilty wetbacks anyway,” the juror said, according to the judge’s report on the case.

The juror’s sentiments towards Mexicans were not discovered during the jury selection process, but the juror admitted to his statement after being questioned by the judge in June. The Fuentes brothers have "green cards," or U.S. permanent resident status, and own three restaurants in Maine, perennially one of the least ethnically diverse states in the country.

“The defendants are entitled to have twelve — not eleven, but twelve — jurors make [a] decision impartially based upon all the evidence and based upon deliberations among them," Hornby wrote in his decision, according to the Bangor Daily News.

“I conclude that these defendants were denied that right, no matter how much this juror believes that he has no discriminatory feelings toward Mexicans," the judge wrote.

The Fuentes brothers face up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine on each count and may have to give up their profits if they are convicted again.

During the trial in March, several workers testified to being forced to work six or seven days a week for up to 13 hours at a time, with kitchen staff receiving payments in cash while waiters only received tips.

The Portland Press Herald reported that the Department of Homeland Security's investigation into the Fuentes brothers began with a tip from Westbrook police Capt. Tom Roth, who pulled over a number of Fajita Brothers employees that were undocumented immigrants.

Judge Horby expressed his disappointment that the racial sentiments from one of the jurors was not discovered until after the conviction, but added that he found the report of the probation officer and the individual who reported the conversation more credible than the juror.

“Certainly I share the government’s frustration that we did not learn of the incident immediately and before the alternates had been discharged, because the trial could have been salvaged with the juror’s replacement by alternate juror,” the judge wrote.

Leonard Sharon, the attorney who represents Hector Fuentes, appeared shocked by the call for a new trial – saying that he had never seen a motion for a new trial granted based on circumstances similar to this one.

“Cases that involve juror misconduct are few and far between,” he said, according to the Bangor Daily News. “We know these kinds of things happen, we just don’t usually discover it.”

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