Anyone who grew up and lived in San Ramon will tell you: Everyone — and I mean everyone — ate at El Balazo in the Marketplace.
With your family, with your soccer team, with whomever you snuck off campus with during lunch time at Cal High. Everyone.
But if you’re part of that San Ramon-ian “everyone,” then you also know that the taqueria chain has ceased to exist after owners Marino and Nicole Sandoval were convicted of hiring undocumented immigrants to work in their kitchens, and then hiding their wages from the IRS.
The three-year legal battle against the Sandovals finally ended on Tuesday. Marino Sandoval was sentenced to 41 months in prison, and his wife Nicole was sentenced to five years probation and one year community confinement. The couple together has to pay the IRS more than $2.2 million in restitution.
Trouble for the popular chain started when IRS agents raided several of the restaurants in 2008 and arrested 63 illegal immigrants. Even after being confronted by the feds, Sandoval rehired at least 10 of the undocumented immigrants back to work at the chain.
Nicole Sandoval later admitted to supplying the workers with fake Social Security numbers and underreporting wages to lower the company’s tax burden.
Sandoval opened the first El Balazo location on Haight Street in 1993, where it quickly became known for authentic flavors and speedy service. He then expanded the chain to the East Bay with multiple locations in Danville, San Ramon, and Pleasanton.
The first El Balazo location was also the last, after the Haight Street location closed in February.