An investigation into IHOP's around the region, including Lima nets in 18 arrests.
It was last September when the FBI raided Lima's IHOP on Elida Road. Now, one of those employees is behind bars facing a handful of charges, but she's not alone in the indictment. It includes 64 counts against 18 people who worked at 7 IHOP restaurants in Ohio and Indiana, including the one in Lima.
"We allege the pancake houses were a front for a much more sinister behind the scenes operation," Tom Harder, with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, said.
Eighteen people who all worked at IHOP restaurants owned by Tarek Elkafrawi are now in prison charged with everything from money laundering, identity theft, alien harboring, and arson.
"Elkrafrawis restaurants served up more than just breakfast; they had a menu of various criminal schemes. They were used as the home basis for a series of criminal enterprises that just had one thing in common – money," Carole Rendon, 1st Assistant U.S, Attorney, Northern District of Ohio, said.
The Department of Justice says Elkafrawi and 17 of his employees cooked the books since he opened his first of 7 IHOP restaurants back in 2003. It wasn't until three years ago someone tipped off authorities of alleged fraud at one of Elkafrawi's Toledo locations.
The investigation then spread to all seven of Elkafrawi's restaurants, including Lima's. Investigators found evidence of up to $1.2 million in unreported net sales and insurance fraud -- most of the alleged schemes coming by way of the more than 200 undocumented workers.
"They hired them then provided them with false and fraudulent identifications. They issued multiple paychecks and then cashed those checks for the employees at the restaurant," Rendon, said.
Donna Herriot, who worked at Lima's IHOP, is one of the 18 listed in the indictment. She's charged with alien harboring, identity theft, and false statements.
Findlay's IHOP was also a big part of the investigation. The DOJ says Elkafrawi had an employee burn down the Findlay IHOP then Elkafrawi got $1.3 million in inflated and false insurance claims. Add that to the $1.2 million in unreported income and Elkafrawi netted nearly $3 million dollars in 8 years. Now he and his alleged accomplices face years in prison.
"It is our aim to make sure that this group will be getting pancakes from behind the scenes of a federal prison cafeteria," Harder said.
The DOJ credits federal, state, and local authorities in helping make these arrests happen, saying it wouldn't have happened without total cooperation from everyone.
It's up to IHOP's corporate headquarters to decide whether to close down Elkafrawi's restaurants or keep them open under new franchise ownership.