04/27/2012 06:59 pm ET Updated Jun 27, 2012

Taqueria El Balazo Owners Sentenced To Prison For Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

This article comes to us courtesy of SF Weekly's The Snitch.

By Albert Samaha

The Mexican food competition in this city is fierce. There are great burrito joints and margarita offerings in every direction. Perhaps Marino and Nicole Sandoval, owners of the El Balazo chain, were just wanting a little boost when they stiffed the feds on taxes and hired undocumented immigrants for their business.

This week, more than seven months after the couple pleaded guilty to the charges, the Department of Justice sentenced Marino to 41 months in prison and Nicole to five years probation and 12 months of community confinement.

According to the Department of Justice, the restaurateurs under-reported their employees' wages, consequently lowering the amount of taxes they had to pay. The Sandovals now owe $2,216,010 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. That's a lot of burritos.

Marino Sandoval also knowingly hired more than 100 undocumented immigrants between August 2007 and August 2008, while Nicole Sandoval submitted false social security numbers for the employees, prosecutors claim. All this emerged after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents investigated the chain in 2008 and found that several dozen employees were not authorized to work in America.

Marino's brother, Francisco, also pleaded guilty in 2010 to withholding taxes and, that December, was sentenced to three years' probation and ordered to pay $50,000 to the IRS.

El Balazo, a sit-down restaurant chain founded in 1993 and known for its amusing and colorful decor, had as many as 10 Bay Area locations, including one in Bayview, Haight Street, and on Mission Street.

Many of the locations have either closed or been sold to new ownership.

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