Don Patron Mexican Restaurant was closed indefinitely June 24 after a five-month investigation by an undercover New Albany police officer, who confirmed a tip that restaurant employees were selling drugs.

Don Patron Mexican Restaurant was closed indefinitely June 24 after a five-month investigation by an undercover New Albany police officer, who confirmed a tip that restaurant employees were selling drugs.

"It's an unusual situation for New Albany," said Mayor Nancy Ferguson. "This is not typical activity here."

New Albany Police Chief Mark Chaney said the officer posed as a customer and began frequenting the restaurant to get information. After he felt comfortable with some of the staff, the officer made it known he would like to buy cocaine. He made three small purchases of up to 27 grams before he asked to purchase more.

Chaney said the restaurant's assistant manager, Cristian A. Garcia, 31, of Blendon Township, was one of three people arrested for selling two kilograms of cocaine valued at $75,000 to the officer. The buy occurred on the west side of Columbus at the corner of Hilliard-Rome and Renner roads at 6:30 p.m. June 24. Two others Omar E. Jimenez, 26, of Galion, and Ricardo R. Rodriguez, 28, of Columbus were also arrested. New Albany worked with members of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) on the arrest.

Chaney said the three men were armed and all the guns were recovered during the arrest. They each received felony drug charges.

Shortly after the arrest, Chaney said New Albany police officers went to the restaurant to serve arrest warrants to three other employees. In all, 14 people were arrested or taken into custody on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally.

New Albany Police Sgt. Mark Anderson said of those, three arrested were charged with crimes committed during the undercover investigation.

Miguel Rodriguez, 24, of Westerville, was charged with three counts of drug trafficking. Nestor Gante, 24, of Columbus, was charged with two counts of kidnapping and gross sexual imposition and Javier Razo, 39, of Worthington, was arrested for failure to report a crime. Anderson said a female employee complained to Razo twice that Gante inappropriately touched her and used force to restrain her in the restaurant.

Anderson said Rodriguez, Gante and Razo are suspected to be in the country illegally.

Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said the three must go through the criminal justice system first. If they are found guilty and sentenced, they must first serve their sentence before ICE takes them to start deportation proceedings.

"Criminal charges will supersede the immigration violations," Walls said. "Once there is full exercise of the criminal case, we would take custody."

Walls said a person is under suspicion of being in the country illegally if her or she cannot produce a birth certificate or social security card.

"If they cannot provide sufficient documentation, we take custody and enter them in the system to verify immigration," Walls said.

Now that illegal immigrants have been identified in New Albany, Walls said that does not necessarily mean there are more living in the village.

"It wouldn't necessarily mean there are any more," he said. "It wouldn't give us grounds to suspect there's a community."

Anderson added that the arrest does not mean that other businesses are trafficking drugs.

"We follow the evidence where it takes us," he said. "There's no reason to believe this type of business is run throughout New Albany."

After the arrests, other agencies entered the restaurant and found several other violations. Anderson said the Plain Township Fire Department found safety violations and New Albany's zoning inspector found violations.

Chaney said electrical outlets had been moved from the building's original plans and some outlets were overloaded. He said Ohio Liquor Control is investigating its own violations of operating and serving alcohol after the permitted hours, which could jeopardize the businesses liquor license.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency also has been called in because of reports that the business was dumping grease into the storm sewer, Anderson said.

"It's indefinitely closed," Chaney said of the restaurant.

Don Patron is north of state Route 161 on U.S. Route 62 in a strip center housing Verizon, Saturday's Hair Care, Tim Hortons and Subway.

Another Don Patron restaurant is located in Pickerington. An employee of that location said the businesses are not part of a franchise.

lwince@thisweeknews.com