Pleasanton Weekly

News - September 16, 2011

El Balazo restaurant couple plead guilty to tax evasion charges

Indicted for tax fraud, hiring illegal immigrants

by Glenn Wohltmann

A Pleasanton couple who owned and ran the El Balazo restaurant chain pleaded guilty Friday to immigration, Social Security and tax evasion.

Marino Sandoval, 58, and his wife, Nicole Sandoval, 50, were arrested last November on charges that they hired illegal aliens, misused employees' Social Security numbers and engaged in tax fraud between 2003 and 2005.

In pleading guilty Sept. 7, the Sandovals admitted they were responsible for withholding federal taxes, including employment and unemployment taxes, from employee pay.

Nicole Sandoval told the court she under-reported employee wages to the payroll company she and her husband used to prepare tax returns. The pair admitted that, based upon their actions, the amount of employment taxes paid to the Internal Revenue Service was understated.

Marino Sandoval also admitted to hiring employees he knew were not legally allowed to work in this country. According to the plea agreement, between August 2007 and August 2008, Marino Sandoval employed more than 100 illegal aliens, many of whom were born outside the U.S.

In May 2008, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a search of several El Balazo restaurants where agents discovered 63 employees who were unauthorized to work in this country. Marino Sandoval later rehired more than 10 of them, despite being informed of their identities in a letter from ICE agents.

In addition to the tax charge, Nicole Sandoval pleaded guilty to misusing employee Social Security numbers. Between 2002 and 2007, she submitted employer's quarterly contribution and wage reports to the Social Security Administration, which included the names and Social Security numbers of undocumented alien workers.

In court, Nicole Sandoval admitted that she knew the numbers were not the Social Security numbers assigned to the employees.

The Sandovals owned and operated the El Balazo restaurants with Marino Sandoval's brother, Francisco Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to tax charges last August. They face sentences of up to 20 years in prison and more than a half million dollars in fines, according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.

El Balazo has two locations in Pleasanton.

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