News

El Balazo owners charged in 20-count indictment

Owners of the popular-but-now-defunct El Balazo chain made their initial appearance today in Oakland federal court, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag announced. The defendants were arraigned and each is free on a $100,000 bond following a slew of charges, searches and closures.

Marino Sandoval and his wife, Nicole, own the El Balazo restaurants in San Ramon and Danville, as well as three others in the East Bay. They, along with Marino's brother Francisco "Frank" Sandoval, are charged in 20-count indictment filed on Nov. 29, 2010.

Charges include: conspiracy to commit tax evasion; tax evasion on the defendants' joint personal income tax returns for the years 2003, 2004, and 2005; failure to pay quarterly Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes and Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) taxes for El Balazo employees between December 2003 and April 2006; filing false U.S. Partnership income tax returns for the years 2003, 2004, and 2005; harboring illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain; knowingly hiring 10 or more unauthorized aliens over a 12-month period and submitting to the Social Security Administration false social security numbers for undocumented alien employees of the El Balazo Restaurants.

According to a release by the United States Attorney's office in conjunction with the IRS, Marino Sandoval was primarily responsible for the day-to-day activities of the restaurants in the East Bay, while Nicole Sandoval handled the catering aspect of the business, including the hiring and employment of restaurant workers and payroll for all East Bay employees.

The criminal information alleged that the defendants concealed the restaurants' daily register sales and the monthly summaries from their accountant who prepared the sales and federal tax returns for the restaurants as well as the defendants' joint personal income tax returns, then under-reported the income generated by the restaurants. The defendants are also alleged to have paid employees by payroll checks and cash and concealed the cash payments from both their accountant and the IRS.

The Sandovals are also charged with employing at least 10 unauthorized aliens over a 12-month period. Between 2002 and 2006, the defendants received "no match" letters from the Social Security Administration notifying them about discrepancies involving many of their more than 100 workers' names and Social Security numbers.

In May 2008, federal agents executed search warrants at several El Balazo restaurants and arrested 64 illegal alien workers, including some from San Ramon's Marketplace location.

On Aug. 30, 2010, Francisco Sandoval, 54, pleaded guilty to failure to pay taxes and harboring illegal aliens for financial gain. Francisco was the partner and manager of two El Balazo restaurants in San Francisco. He will be sentenced on Dec. 9.

Arlette Lee, special agent and public information officer with the IRS' criminal investigation unit, says the next step in Marino and Nicole Sandoval's case will surely be a big one.

"The next large step would either be going to trial and pleading, but I don't know what's on schedule for their next appearance," she said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office, who would have information regarding the next step of the case, was unavailable for comment.

Marino and Nicole Sandoval are next scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu in Oakland at 10 a.m. on Jan. 31, 2011.

Comments

Posted by Bill, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2010 at 6:53 am

This El Balazo illegal alien and tax fraud is probably just the tip of the ice berg for these type of incidents. The food service business relies on illegal aliens to survive yet we all turn away to the fact that it exists. These people predominately from Mexico and South America provide services that many here in the US refuse to do. These people work hard and are good workers in general. I remain very ambivalent as to what the solution should be.


Posted by Louise, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2010 at 7:06 am

Does anyone know who owns the El Balazo in Pleasanton which is still operating? I am assuming different owners now?


Posted by Farmer Dave, a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2010 at 7:07 am

Farmer Dave is a registered user.

Sad. I've eaten dinner in the Sandovals' home, and they certainly seemed like a nice family. If the charges are proven accurate, it seems a shame, since their restaurants were otherwise popular and offered a tasty menu.


Posted by Pablo, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2010 at 8:27 am

These owners obviously stretched the limits of the law on their taxes but I wonder just how many Restaurants (Mexican in particular) throughout the entire Bay Area and beyond have hired illegal aliens. I see contractors who do this all the time. How many of us check the credentials of our Gardeners?


Posted by Derek, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2010 at 9:58 am

A "tasty menu"? I don't know Farmer Dave.... even by Danville's whitebread standards it was a pretty mediocre chain. By South Bay standards it would barely be in the bottom 10%. Not that Los Panchos is a five star either.
I cannot speak as to whether the Sandovals were nice people or not, though the cynic in me says anyone living in the Tassajara/Blackhawk mansion area has little to be grumpy about.
They did not just make one little boo-boo, they simultaneously committed a number of crimes. Were it only tax evasion, considering where our money is wasted, I would cut them plenty of slack. But that was not the case.


Posted by guynextdoor, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2010 at 10:02 am

Treebeard, I think that's a typo rather than a misspelling as it's spelled correctly in the second paragraph. This site could use a spell check for us posters too. Welcome to Express Jessica.


Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2010 at 12:06 pm

If they're found guilty, I hope whoever turned them in to the cops gets a reward. The IRS will give you up to 15% of the recovered taxes if you file Form 211 and otherwise qualify.

Web Link

There's too many tax cheats and the rest of us who pay taxes suffer.

Businesses who hire illegal aliens and cheat on their taxes have an unfair price advantage over businesses that do not.


Posted by FiveGuys, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Didn't El Balazo just open a new resturant at the corner of Camino Tassajara and Crow Canyon roads in the past few months?

Who owns that. I think it is still operating?


Posted by Samantha, a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Nicole Sandoval was my very close freind many years ago. My children grew up with hers. Her husband, Marino was very demanding if not abusive. Nicole always followed the law as her occupation prior to meeting Marino was as a Corporate Attorney. Granted that Nicole should have refused to participate in the unlawful behavior that Marino master-minded, I do believe sometimes we do things out of character if we are threatened and an instinct to survive.


Posted by jrm, a resident of Vista Grande Elementary School
on Dec 7, 2010 at 4:14 pm

jrm is a registered user.

I will miss their great catering service, I used them a number of times for parties, very reasonable rates and always delivered right on time...anyone tried Los Panchos catering service? I'd like some feedback.
I will say Mr. Sandoval is a bit hard nosed, I remember one weekend a street fair was going on and I saw him go ballistic over the location of a some of the sawhorses that were directing traffic, over the top parking lot road rage of sorts. A colleague of mine has a landscape business and he had to sue Marino in small claims court to get paid for his services...it was a real hassle for him to finally get payment. I believe they tragically lost a child a few years ago and I hope their children come out of this sad situation reasonable intact. At the end of the day, the law is the law and spcwt is right in the points he made.


Posted by neighbor down the road, a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm

I wonder if their house is still in foreclosure. Its a MASSIVE house on Bruce drive with a HUGE resort like pool and land, land, land to die for....Guess Tax evasion let them live quite large for a few years. Plus, I think their son still is running another restaurant on Pimlico in P-town. Wonder if that one is all legit or is a front for some of daddy's biz?


Posted by One-Arm Bandit, a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2010 at 11:49 pm

We rented from the Sandovals in Alameda in the 1980's. There was constant traffic from Mexico through our building and next store, which they also owned. My husband and I used to refer to our bldg as the brown underground. Something's been going on a lot longer than 2003 - maybe the statute of limitations, who knows? And it wasn't just Marino and Frank who were involved, or at least who had knowledge.


Posted by Lee Bloom, a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:24 am

Every dog gets his day.


Posted by psmacintosh, a resident of Danville
on Dec 8, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Absolutely loved their basic food dishes, large portions, and reasonable prices. Miss the Burritos and Taco Salads!

They were a Danville fixture for many years! Sorry to see them go!

Wish they could have run their business legally/etc..

Not happy if they were hiring illegals. But I'd like to see the Govt be consistent and uniformly go against ALL restaurants that are doing such if they are going against any. (otherwise it smacks of possible political favoritism and agenda by someone/something).

So it would be interesting to know "who" turned them in or how they got caught in these charges. (a jealous Danville or Mexican restaurant or what.)

One less pleasant remembrance:
As much as I personally liked their employees/managers, I wasn't so happy when they decided to close the restaurant down in order to let their employees participate in that day of protest and Mexican solidarity (can't remember what it was called or the exact date several years ago)--where many marched around SF, waved Mexican flags, and burned American flags. Think that might have put them on somebody's radar screen?


Posted by concerned citizen, a resident of Blackhawk
on Dec 9, 2010 at 7:03 am

After reading the article about Marino and Nicole Sandoval, it just makes me upset to know that these two people basically ignored the tax and immigration laws and thought they were above everyone else. Granted, being an owner of a business is never easy and I am always in awe of those who succeed, however one can't just decide to operate outside of the law by underreporting income, therefore reducing taxes owed to many federal and state agencies and paying illegal immigrants under the table. I guess they are able to live in their MASSIVE home by cheating the government in every aspect. Now that the feds are on to them, I wonder if they can continue to live in such a luxuriuos lifestyle? Only time will tell. If they do plead guilty (as the brother already has) then they really should suffer the consequences. Too many people refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.


Posted by Hal, a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Dear Dolores,

I think the direction we're taking this discussion -- airing stored-up personal grievances and character assassination -- is the best possible route to take in this situation, as it stays as much in line with the Spirit of Danville and our Express' community forums as possible.

Also, although I understand and have to officially endorse it in my bid for Mayor of the San Ramon Valley, I feel it's too bad the Mexicano people had to go home, or wherever. They made some truly superb pinto beans, tortillas and other traditional Americanized Mexicoish dishes that I suspect I will greatly miss.

halbailey@yahoo.com


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Danville
on Dec 14, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Wonder why all tax cheats don't get arested? The Major of Oakland owes over $295K in back federal taxes alone and he's still running the city.Guess some people are above the law.


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