Proprietors of the restaurant chain behind Haight Street's beloved Taqueria El Balazo pleaded guilty Wednesday to a series of violations surrounding immigration, social security, and tax evasion practices, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag announced.
Marino Sandoval, 58, and his wife Nicole, 50, were charged late last year with engaging in tax fraud, hiring illegal aliens and misusing employees' social security numbers. The charges stemmed from a 2008 incident in which U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents raided 11 El Balazo restaurants and arrested 63 undocumented workers, drawing the ire of immigration advocates across the Bay Area.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Marino Salazar later re-hired at least 10 of the illegal employees after receiving written notification from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security investigators informing him of the employees' identities.
Hiring undocumented workers is a common practice in the restaurant industry. In a 2007 interview with Grub Street San Francisco, Bix's Bruce Hill called such employees the "backbone of the industry." "We hire hardworking people," he said. "And if he or she is a kick-butt employee, we (the industry) look the other way."
The Sandovals are scheduled to be sentenced December 14 and could face up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, according to San Ramon Express News. Sandoval's brother, Francisco Sandoval, who owns and operates the restaurant chain with the couple, pleaded guilty to tax charges last August.
Taqueria El Balazo currently operates nine restaurants throughout the Bay Area in addition to its Haight Street outpost.
Full disclosure: The author of this post is eating an El Balazo carnitas super burrito as she writes this. And it's delicious.