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04/24/2012

Owners of Bay Area restaurant chain sentenced for tax violations, hiring illegal aliens

Defendants ordered to pay more than $2 million in restitution to IRS

OAKLAND, Calif. – The husband and wife owners of a Bay Area Mexican restaurant chain were sentenced Tuesday on various immigration, Social Security and tax violations uncovered during a probe involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and several other federal agencies.

Marino Sandoval, 59, and Nicole Sandoval, 51, owners of El Balazo Restaurant, appeared in federal court Tuesday. Marino Sandoval was sentenced to 41 months in prison. Nicole Sandoval was sentenced to five years' probation and 12 months of community confinement. In addition, the two were ordered to pay $2.2 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The Pleasanton couple pleaded guilty Sept. 7, 2011. In pleading guilty, they admitted owning and operating El Balazo, along with Marino Sandoval's brother, Francisco Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to tax charges in 2010. Marino and Nicole Sandoval acknowledged they were responsible for withholding federal taxes, including employment and unemployment taxes, from their employees' pay. Nicole Sandoval admitted she underreported employees' wages to the payroll company that prepared the restaurants' tax returns. Marino and Nicole Sandoval admitted that, because of their actions, the amount of employment taxes paid to the IRS was understated.

At the hearing, Marino Sandoval also admitted hiring employees who were not authorized to work in the United States. According to his plea agreement, between August 2007 and August 2008, he employed more than 100 illegal aliens. In May 2008, HSI special agents conducted searches at several El Balazo locations and encountered approximately 63 illegal alien workers. After being informed by HSI in writing of the identities of the unauthorized employees, Marino Sandoval rehired more than 10 of them.

Aside from the tax charges, Nicole Sandoval also pleaded guilty to misusing El Balazo employees' Social Security numbers that were provided to the Social Security Administration and the IRS. Between 2002 and 2007, Nicole Sandoval submitted, on behalf of El Balazo, the employer's quarterly contribution and wage reports to the Social Security Administration. The reports included the names of undocumented alien employees receiving wages from their employment. In court, Nicole Sandoval admitted she was aware the Social Security numbers submitted were not the numbers assigned to the employees.

The couple was charged by criminal information in November 2010 with harboring and employing illegal aliens; misusing employees' Social Security numbers; and engaging in tax fraud.

In addition to HSI, IRS Criminal Investigation and the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General also participated in the probe. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen Corrigan and Thomas Newman with further support provided by Kathleen Turner.